Saturday, October 18, 2008

An African Safari in Baltimore

With the economy in turmoil, now is a good time to get out and enjoy a cost saving adventure. All you need is a little creativity and a trip to your local zoo. You will undoubtedly learn more about our world and the many rare and exotic creatures that live here. I took a day trip to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore with my kids and found that it’s a great way to connect with nature, your family and even yourself. Most large cities have a zoo and if you haven’t visited one lately there is plenty to see and a variety of activities to educate and entertain.
The Maryland Zoo’s African Journey is the largest exhibit area on the 160 acre zoo, dedicated to the animals and birds of the African continent. A few of the many exhibits include leopards, cheetahs, warthogs, giraffes, elephants, lions, chimpanzees, vultures and West African cranes.

A new feature in the African Journey is the giraffe feeding plaza where you can feed the giraffe’s everyday between 10:30 and 3 pm. We ventured past the rhinos, vultures and camels to Further into the African Journey is an expanded area for the African elephants. On March 19, 2008, Felix, a 24 year old elephant gave birth to the first ever baby elephant at the zoo. Sampson, the 290-pound newborn, was named by vote.

The Maryland Wilderness is featured in the Children's Zoo and represents the animals, birds and reptiles of the state. Included in the exhibit are domesticated animals like goats and sheep and typical farm animals. This part of the zoo has a lot of interaction to keep young kids interested in discovering more about animal and their habitat. They have plexiglass enclosures to watch river otter’s underwater, a cave to see bats and snakes and even an ecological tree built with stairs that you walk up inside. At the top of the tree is an optional slide, a favorite with the kids.

One of the first exhibit areas in the zoo, after taking the tram from the entrance, is the Polar Bear Watch. From here you can see the largest predators in the world, Alaska and Magnet, and their newest addition, Anoki. This year the zoo added Anoki to the exhibit in hopes of breeding with Magnet. Anoki is on loan from the New Mexico Biological Park in Albuquerque. A unique aspect of this exhibit is an actual Tundra Buggy that is air conditioned and overlooks the water and bear habitat.

Not only is a trip to the zoo a great way to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends it is an opportunity to learn about and discuss how we take care of animals and our surroundings. The zoo is a good day trip that can be educational in many ways. Who knows what you may see the animals doing that will spark questions from your kids, leaving you stuttering, or checking
Wikipedia from your iphone. On my last visit, my daughter asked me who was faster, a cheetah or a leopard. I now know it is the cheetah, running at up to 70 miles per hour for long distances compared to about 40 miles per hour in short bursts for the leopard.

Many people stay away from zoos because they don’t like to see the beautiful animals caged or restricted from running, swimming or flying free. Zoos have been around at least 3500 years and so have the debates on whether zoos are sanctuaries for the protection of the species, educational centers, or circus sideshows, where animals are held captive against their will. There is enough evidence to support all of these arguments and that is where visiting a zoo can help you to connect and reflect on your own feelings.
Day Trip Specifics:
The zoo is open everyday ten months a year, from March through December, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The hours are 10 am to 4 pm and costs $11 for adults and $9 for children, weekends slightly higher. Parking is free and souveniers abound.
Special note for those who join the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, or are members of participating zoos, there is most likely a Reciprocal Admissions Program (RAP) that lets you can gain free admission to other zoos in the association. For example Friends of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. can get free admission to the Maryland Zoo and vice versa. Check your membership for details.

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