John Ball Zoo – It’s not your childhood Zoo!

Zoo-amanDSC_0431People tend to think of a visit to the Zoo as a summertime activity, but the fall is an excellent time to visit too! For one thing, beginning September 16, John Ball Zoo admission is reduced to $5.00 for adults, and $4.00 for kids. Children two and under are always free. In the cooler fall months, animals are far more active. There’s fewer people so you’ll be able to get up-close-and-personal with the animals, and zookeepers have a little more time to chat and share some insider info.

The very first thing you should do before you visit the Zoo is go to the Zoo’s website and click on “Visitor’s Guide” and then “Daily Programs” http://www.johnballzoosociety.org/dailyprograms.php. New this year, the Zoo started to bring the behind-the-scenes animal care to the front of the exhibit for visitors to see and sometimes even participate in. It’s fascinating, cute, educational and just plain amazing! Take for example bear training. If you haven’t seen a grizzly up on its hind legs, you’re in for a eye-popping treat. Then there’s the “entertainers” of the Zoo, the Colobus monkeys. These smart little primates will run thru a list of training behaviors like pros and the female doesn’t even miss a beat with her new baby clinging to her chest! The zookeepers offer these training demonstrations not as a ‘show’, but as a necessary part of animal care in Zoos. If a keeper suspects a wound on a bear foot, they need to be able to examine it without immobilizing the animal. Each day is different but all these new zoo offerings are listed in the DAILY PROGRAMS section of the Zoo website – OR – if you have a smart phone – you can download the new Zoo APP that includes an interactive map, schedule of events, and descriptions of the exhibits. It’s available for I-phone on I-tunes or for Android at Google Play. It’s free.

If you haven’t been to the Zoo in the last couple years, you really must explore it. Did you know that two years ago the Zoo nearly doubled its footprint??? There’s an entirely new area, the Forest Realm, which will be the location of a new tiger exhibit in 2014. Right now the area offers a peaceful wooded trail with a variety of children’s play areas. There’s also an awesome view of downtown Grand Rapids at the furthest east point. The Forest Realm is accessible by foot or by the new Funicular, a 3 car tram that gets visitors up to the Forest Realm so that they can walk thru the Zoo downhill. Cost for the funicular is $3.00 per person one way, but if you know the hilly terrain of the Zoo, it’s well worth it.

The Zoo’s animal collection has also grown considerably. There’s a pride of four lions, 8 chimpanzees, 2 grizzly bear, otters, puma, snow leopards, a tapir, capybara, an African exhibit and a huge collection of smaller primates like the baboons, spider monkeys, howler monkeys (with a new baby), and many more. Reptile and amphibian lovers will get their fill in the Treasure of the Tropics and Frog! building. The only aquarium in Michigan houses a large flock of penguins, a 40-thousand gallon Kelp Forest tank, a tide pool and an eel. All in all, there’s over 2,000 animals.

The bottom line is that you’ll find John Ball Zoo isn’t your childhood Zoo anymore. The Zookeepers are all highly educated biologists, there’s a snazzy gift shop, a ticketing system, indoor seating at the concession stand and educational programs that reach over 300,000 adults, school kids, and families. The Zoo employs over a hundred people and they are all specialists in their fields from teachers to computer geeks! Anyway…the only job you have to worry about is to kick back, relax and enjoy a pleasant day at the Zoo with your family!

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