Dallas Zoo

by Donny on June 27, 2010

Dallas Zoo
650 South R.L. Thornton Freeway
Dallas, TX. 75203
(214) 670-5656
www.dallaszoo.com
 
On May 28th, 2010 The Dallas Zoo opened its largest new exhibit in twenty years – the eleven acre Giants of the Savanna. In many ways, Giants of the Savanna brings Africa and its wildlife right here to Dallas, Texas. The savanna is filled with grasses, trees, water holes and mud pits. Most importantly, it has lots of African animals.

The zoo’s elephants, giraffes, impalas, zebras and ostriches are also getting used to their new home on the savanna. there are also some beautifully ugly warthogs roaming around looking for some mud to play in. In addition to this there is a separate predator area which houses the zoo’s three new cheetahs and five lions.

When we visited the kings of the jungle, they were taking a siesta next to one of the zoo’s restaurants. It looked like they had just polished off a bunch of watermelon and weren’t going to put themselves on exhibit anytime soon.

Overall, I found the Giants of the Savanna exhibit somewhat underwhelming. It did not live up to its billing. It just seemed like the typical African wildlife exhibit I’ve seen at other zoos. That said, there are still some really great things about the exhibit.

When you enter the Giants of the Savanna you are handed a cool blue passport which tell about the different animals you will see. There is a really neat base camp inside the exhibit where you can get you passport stamped.

Every time you visit the exhibit you can collect another stamp. When you’ve got all eight stamps you are given a Giant’s of the Savanna collector’s coin. The base camp is also an ideal place for the family to rest, relax, and regroup after wandering around the zoo on a hot day.

There are plenty of seats. They have nature programs on a big flat screen plasma TV, a video game, and lots of neat things on display such as elephant skulls, teeth, and tusks. Best of all, it is cool and shady.

At certain times during the day there is a show at the base camp where the family can watch the zookeepers feed the elephants and teach lots of interesting facts about them. Not too far from the base camp you can feed the giraffes some lettuce.

Well, if you have $5 to spare you can try, anyway. Not everyone is successful. You can get a close up view of the warthogs and red river hogs bumbling around, or if you prefer you can watch the ostriches or the graceful Impalas from a distance.

My family was not able to see zebras on this visit but we will keep an eye out for them next time. If you want some idea of what the exhibit looks like without leaving the comfort of your air-conditioned house, you can go to the zoos website (www.dallaszoo.com) and take a virtual tour online.

The Giants of the Savanna exhibit is part of the Dallas Zoo’s Wilds of Africa section which opens at 8:00am during the month of June. The rest of the zoo opens at 9:00am and stays open until 5:00pm everyday except Christmas.

A great way to see other African wildlife that you won’t see in the Giants of the Savanna exhibit is to take a ride on the Monorail Safari. The monorail cars are not air-conditioned, but at least you can rest your feet.

For $3.00 per person you can take a leisurely ride and listen to the monorail driver describe various African habitats, geography, and animals such as the Okapi. If you’ve never seen an Okapi, it looks like a cross between a short giraffe and a zebra.

You will also see a rock hyrax (the African version of the mountain goat), Bongo deer, and the Caracal ( a small but dangerous wildcat with cute ears and a pension for leaping into the air and catching birds).

There are also several other interesting things to see in the Wilds of Africa area. At Crocodile Isle you can see the Nile crocs and at certain times you can even watch the zookeepers feed them. Crikey!

You can take a stroll through the A.D. Martin Forest Aviary, which the zoo’s website bills as the “largest outdoor walkthrough exotic bird habitat in Texas.” All the birds are from native Africa and include songbirds, waterfowl, parrots and more.

There are various observation points and telescopes available to allow you a better look at the birds.

Another great place for a walk is the Nature Trail, a forest path which takes you closer to some of the animals you saw on the monorail as well as the delightful meerkats and more.

If you’re interested in monkeys and apes you can visit the half-acre Kimberly-Clark Chimpanzee Forest or the Jake L. Hammon Gorilla Conversation Center.

The Gorilla Center is a two acre habitat which is home to a troop of lowland gorilla. There are plenty of places to watch the gorillas from, and there are gorilla guides around to answer any of your questions.

If you’ve never been to the Dallas Zoo, or its been a long time since your last visit, there are plenty of great things to see and do.

It’s always fun to start out with a ride on the Endangered Species Carousel. The Carousel has lots of fun animals on it, besides the typical carousel fare.

There are eagles, rhinos, okapi, and hummingbirds, just to name a few. Rides on the Endangered Species Carousel cost $2.00 per person. The carousel is located right at the front of the zoo in the entry plaza.

It’s usually the first thing our family does before seeing the rest of the zoo. The Entry Plaza also contains the Zoofari Market which my wife and I always try to steer our kids away from.

It’s full of fun animal toys and souvenirs and other kid-lures. If you are interested in learning more about the animals at the zoo in a fun and easy way you can rent the new Zoo Ranger at the Zoo Ranger information station.

The Zoo Ranger is a hand-held GPS guided video tour of the zoo. It teaches about the animals and even has fun trivia games for you family to play.

The Zoo Ranger rents for $6.95 a day. A last point of interest in the Entry Plaza is Lemur Lookout, home to several of these critically endangered primates from Madagascar.

After we ride the Endangered Species Carousel, my family usually heads over to the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo.

This is a perfect place for younger kids. In the center of the Children’s Zoo is a fun playground with things to climb on and through, as well as water to splash around in on hot days.

Our four and five year old sons love to play in the water here. And don’t worry, with the summer heat, their clothes will be dry again before you head home.

Surrounding the playground are several other fun areas. Travis and Zach’s Bird Landing is a great place for children and adults to learn more about birds and experience them up close and personal.

The enclosure is filled with birds who have been selected for their people-friendly personalities (well, compared to other birds anyway). If you are lucky, some of the birds will take time out of their busy schedules to perch on your finger, forearm, or shoulder.

If you are not so lucky, you can buy your own luck by purchasing a popsicle stick covered in bird seed. The birds may not land on you, but they will land on your popsicle stick. Note to parents: be sure to have your cameras at the ready because the birds (like your children) don’t like to sit still very long.

The helpers at the Bird Landing are very knowledgeable and will teach you a lot about the birds. Beware of poop, though! More than one in our group had a close encounter with the messier side of nature. Thank goodness for the hand sanitizer and sinks on the way out!

In The Underzone, you can get a good look at everyone’s favorite animal – the naked mole rat. The naked mole rats are ugly but interesting. You will have fun watching them roam around their tunnels looking for food. But the kids don’t have to just watch the naked mole rats go through tunnels. They can crawl through their own tunnel.

The Underzone’s tunnel leads outside where the kids can poke their heads up into three big plastic bubbles (kind of like giant astronaut helmets) and watch several cute mongoose. If the weather is good, you can pay for the kids to get a pony ride at the Pony Trek located next to The Underzone.

At the Kresge Foundation Farm you can visit the miniature donkeys and English sheep, learn about rabbits and guinea pigs, and meet the zoo’s Anatolian shepherd, Leia.

The J.C. Penney Discovery House and A.H. Belo Discovery Yard gives new meaning to the word tree house. It has a big old oak tree growing inside it. Here the kids can play games, do crafts, and learn about local plants and animals.

The Katherine and Allen Levy Tot Spot allows kids to climb, slide, and do activities in a safe corral.
One of my favorite zoo places, and not just because it’s air-conditioned, is The Nature Exchange.

Kids are encouraged to collect things from nature (from outside the zoo) such as leaves, pinecones, rocks, shells, bones, feathers, etc. and bring them into the Nature Exchange where they will be given points for their nature finds.

The more the kids know about what they have brought in, the more points they will be awarded. The helpful workers will teach your children (and you) lots of interesting the things they have brought in. We learned a lot about one of the trees in our yard.

The Nature Exchange also has a microscope which is hooked up to a television monitor. We got to have a magnified look at the skin of a garter snake which our seven-year-old son brought in.

We thought it was great. With the points your children collect at the Nature Exchange, they can buy things like shells, shark teeth, fossils, skulls, bones, butterflies, insects, beautiful rocks, antlers and much more.

The best part is that this fun experience encourages your children to get outside, explore, and learn more about the natural world rather than sit inside all day watching television and playing video games.

The last section of the Dallas Zoo is called Zoo North, where you can see Flamingo Pond, Primate Place, Kangaroos, and Wallabies. This section has had several changes, as many of the animals that were housed here have now been moved into their new home at the Giants of the Savannah exhibit.

A couple of the exhibits in Zoo North were disappointing. We were eager to watch the otters play at the Otter Outpost but there was not an otter in sight. We saw one tiger at the ExxonMobil Endangered Tiger Habitat.

He was difficult to find and could only be viewed from a distance (not that I wanted to get to close, but I would have preferred a little better view). Near the Otter Outpost, however, they have camel rides. My wife and our seven-year-old had a fun ride.

The rides are pretty short and cost $5.00 per person, even though riders from the same family or group will ride together on one camel. Fortunately we had coupons for a couple of free rides.

You can also have a picture taken on the camel for an additional $5.00 or you can just take your own pictures as I did.

Some other interesting things to see in Zoo North are the Wings of Wonder exhibit (predator birds such as eagles and huge condors), Bug U, which has lots of glass cases full of fascinating bugs (black widows spiders, dung beetles, leaf cutter ants etc.), Cat Green which has a Bobcat, Ocelots, and Asian Fishing Cats, as well as more birds of prey.

Cat Green is a great place to have a picnic. We weren’t sure on our first visit if you can bring food into the zoo, but the next time we were prepared and enjoyed a nice picnic.

There is a large area next to the cages which is full of picnic tables and shade trees.

My favorite place in Zoo North is definitely the Bird and Reptile Building.

The zoo’s website says that the Bird and Reptile Building houses one of the best reptile and amphibian collections in the United States. I believe it. It’s full of fascinating reptiles and amphibians from around the world.

It’s got lots of beautiful and deadly beasties such as the beautifully colored but extremely deadly dart frog whose skin exudes poison. There are cobras, green and black mamba snakes, rattlesnakes and best of all, massive pythons and boa constrictors. In addition to the deadly creatures, there are many that are just plain strange-looking and fascinating to watch.

One of the real treats of the exhibit, though, is to be able to get a close look at animals that are critically endangered. One such creature is the Panamanian Golden Frog.

I recently watched a fascinating nature program which showed how all of the Panamanian Golden Frogs had to be removed from the wild because they, like many other frogs, were being decimated by the strange bacteria or parasite or something called Kitrid or something like that. One of the cute things scientists discovered studying the Panamanian Golden Frog was that one way they communicated was by waving at each other.

Right now at the Bird and Reptile Building they have an exhibit called Ghosts of the Bayou, which features a nine foot albino American alligator (yes, it’s completely white) and some of his bayou buddies.

Some other things to check out at Zoo North are the huge turtles from the Galapagos Islands and the Butterfly Garden.

It would be very difficult to see everything at the Dallas Zoo in just one day. Even if you could it would be rushed and stressful and you probably wouldn’t remember much of what you saw.

Tickets cost $12.00 for adults twelve to sixty-four years old, $9.00 for kids under twelve and for senior citizens over sixty-five. Kids two-years-old and under get in free. That doesn’t include the parking fee of $7.00 per vehicle. So a family of four will pay $42.00 plus parking to get in. And then you won’t be able to see everything.

The best bargain if you have the time and a little extra money is to get a one year membership. For the cost of about three visits you can get free parking and admission to the zoo whenever you want.

And you can see everything at your leisure. This is great low-cost investment for your family that you’ll enjoy all year round. In addition, the different membership levels have different perks.

The Individual-Plus membership costs $89.00 annually. It includes free admission for one adult plus one guest and two free Monorail Safari and Endangered Species Carousel tickets.

The Family membership costs $99.00. It includes free admission for one or two adults in the same household and their children or grandchildren plus four free Monorail Safari and Endangered Species Carousel tickets.

The Family-Plus Membership costs $119.00. It’s the same as the Family Membership but includes one guest any time and six free Monorail or Carousel tickets. This membership can be made to include a nanny or baby-sitter for the member’s children.

The Family Passport costs $160.00. It’s the same as the Family-Plus membership plus unlimited monorail and carousel passes. This is the membership our family purchased. Not only can we go to the zoo whenever we want but we can ride the carousel and the monorail as much as we want.

There are also other membership levels available at $250 and up that come with increasing perks.

We had a bit of confusion on how to get our free carousel rides with our Passport Membership. Some of the zoo staff didn’t seem to know exactly how things operate, although we ended up getting our carousel tickets fairly quickly anyway.

Also, we have not yet received our official zoo membership card in the mail, and it’s been 2 weeks. But I don’t think any of the bumps in the road will make us regret our purchase; we are pretty happy zoo members.
 

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