Search This Blog

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Zoo Review: Metro Richmond Zoo

On the outskirts of Virginia's capital city is one of the region's largest zoos, the Metro Richmond Zoo.  What makes this facility so unusual among large zoos is that it is not AZA-accredited, and is privately owned and operated (not that those two things are mutually exclusive).  Originating as the private animal collection of owner and founder Jim Andelin, the Metro Richmond Zoo features an impressive collection of hoofstock and  (especially) primates.  It is also something of a trendsetter in human-animal interactions; there are many features I've seen repeated over and over at facilities (especially privately-owned ones), and they all seem to have been inspired by what the owners of those facilities first saw in Richmond.

The zoo boasts an enormous collection of hoofstock, and most of the facility is given over to large paddocks for various hoofed animals.  The African plains sections features addax, impala, zebra, and kudu, along with storks, cranes, and ostriches.  White rhinos and cheetahs are also found here, along with giraffes, which can be fed from a special platform.  A nearby looping path takes visitors through the woods, where North American ungulates - bison and bighorns, elk and pronghorn, roam together.  The path then ends in an Asian forest, where takin, blackbuck, tahr, and mouflon roam a wooded hillside.  A closer look at the Asian species can be obtained on the Safari Train Ride, which also travels to a second African grasslands area, this one only visible from the train.  Visitors who wish to get a unique perspective of the rhinos, cheetahs, and antelope in the other African area can do so from the Safari Sky Ride, taking guests over the heads of the animals.

The owner of the facility seems to have a special fondness for primates to a degree that seems almost obsessive.  Rows of lemurs, marmosets, tamarins, and New and Old World monkeys can be found towards the center of the zoo.  Unusual among a non-AZA facility, Richmond also has a strong collection of apes - siamangs, orangutans, and chimpanzees can all be seen in moated island exhibits.  Near the apes are the large carnivores - in addition to the cheetahs, the zoo houses snow leopards, lions, tigers, and Asian black bears.  Rounding out the collection are assorted small mammals and birds, including fruit bats, sloths, binturongs, kangaroos, and African small-clawed otters (a rarely-exhibited relative of the Asian small-clawed otters often seen in zoos).  

The bird collection is also impressive in its scope - besides the tall birds sharing habitats with the African ungulates, there are Chilean flamingos, African penguins, and a walk-through aviary of ducks, pheasants, ibises, and spoonbills.  The birds most likely to be remembered by visitors, however, are, ironically, the budgerigars, small, brightly-colored parakeets often seen in pet stores.  That's because the zoo allows guests to enter their budgie exhibit and feed the birds from seed-sticks, a trend which has spread to many other zoos.  The tiny reptile collection is anchored by alligators and Galapagos tortoises, though a reptile building has opened since I visited last, starring a Komodo dragon.

Years of working in public and private zoos alike have left me with a certain amount of leeriness towards the later - a zoo that is run and operated by a single person can be subject to some pretty strong whims, some harmless, some not.  (An example - right out of college I looked pretty closely at working at Metro Richmond Zoo... but was a bit discomfited by the fact that all staff, I was told, were required to participate in the Christmas pageant, complete with camels and other live animals).  I also tend to be a little more suspicious of zoos that haven't been vetted by AZA behind the scenes as well as in front.  

That being said, I enjoyed Richmond and left with a good vibe.  The exhibits were a mixed-bag; some were fantastic (I really liked the North American ungulate exhibits), and some looked like what they were - home-made with poles and wire.  There were a few things I saw that I wasn't quite sure I liked the look of - the state of some of the tortoise shells, for instance, with one looking really bad - but I don't know if they came to the zoo like that (a problem I've dealt with before), so I'll reserve judgement on that point.  I did see evidence of conservation fundraising, and the staff that I talked to were friendly, courteous, and seemed knowledgeable.  

Lots of zoos have visited Richmond and gotten ideas and inspiration which they've implemented at their own facility.  So yes, I would definitely give Metro Richmond Zoo another look while I'm in the area.

No comments:

Post a Comment