Day Trips

The Dallas Zoo
The Dallas Zoo (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

New at the Dallas Zoo this year is the endangered species carousel. From an early age children will learn to identify 30 creatures at the brink of extinction. It is a clever and fun way to learn about the animals of the world.

The children can take a spin upon gorillas, rhinos, panthers, zebras, tigers, cheetahs, and other colorful critters. The ride is one of only a few in the country that highlight the beauty of endangered species.

Built by a company out of Wichita, Kan., the carousel has a decidedly Dallas theme. Hand-painted scenes from around the zoo decorate the merry-go-round. One of the animals is an okapi, a native of the dense forests of the Congo River basin. The zoo has one of three successful okapi breeding programs in the U.S. When the artist began painting the animal that resembles a short giraffe with zebra stripes, he used the markings of a Dallas Zoo resident as a model.

The other main ride at the zoo is a mile long monorail that takes visitors into the Wilds of Africa exhibit. More than 60 species of African birds, mammals, and reptiles live in the relatively new portion of the zoo that is landscaped to resemble their natural habitat. While the animals are sometimes hard to see in the thick brush, just like in nature, it gives the visitor a more realistic look at the animal's behavior.

The African gorillas are one of the most popular exhibits in the zoo. Five lowland gorillas lounge in a heavily wooded habitat. Depending on the gorillas' moods, visitors can often watch them up close from an observation platform.

On the other side of the park in the endangered tiger habitat, the big cats romp and tussle oblivious to the crowd of spectators huddled around the glass windows of the observation rooms. Made to look like an Oriental pagoda, the platforms give the visitors a bird's eye view of the felines.

For the younger guests, the Lacerte Family Children's Zoo is a wonderful place for children to learn about animals. The discovery zone is part petting zoo and part playground. It is a non-threatening environment to get close to pot-bellied pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, and other creatures.

Walking around the zoo can be quite a workout as the paths climb some steep hills and circle back around to descend, but it is all worth it. From the giant elephants to the cuddly monkeys, the zoo is an animal safari that circles the globe. The zoo also rents strollers, wagons, and wheelchairs to make the adventure a little easier.

Founded in 1888, the Dallas Zoo is one of the oldest animal parks west of the Mississippi River. This may not be one of the fanciest zoos around, but the staff does an excellent job caring for the animals. Current renovation and construction projects can be a nuisance to the visitor, but are necessary upgrades to the facilities.

The Dallas Zoo's main mission is research and education. The zoo has several outreach programs to local schools. Throughout the zoo are signs announcing keeper talks or public feedings at the animal cages. These events are often informal and always informative.

As a participant in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, the zoo is working on a worldwide plan to preserve more than 50 endangered species to maintain genetic diversity. With more than 8,000 animals in the collection, the staff works on animal conservation and management research projects both at the zoo and in the field.

The Dallas Zoo is about three miles south of downtown off I-35 E. at the Marsalis Avenue exit, and is open every day except Christmas Day from 9am to 5pm. The statue of a giraffe at the entrance is the tallest freestanding statue in the state, beating out the statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville by the distance of the giraffe's outstretched tongue. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for children, and seniors with children under 3 are admitted free. Parking is another $4 per car. On Mondays and Tuesdays the zoo offers half-price admission with a same-day receipt from the DART station near the entrance. For more information, call 214/670-5656 or at www.dallaszoo.com.

581st in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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