Friday, September 4, 2009

Omaha's Wild Kingdom

For Labor Day weekend, we headed up to a family gathering in Minnesota to celebrate Uncle Mark's birthday. We decided to break up the drive on the way there so we left on Thursday after Morgan got out of school and drove to Kearny. Once there, we did the math and figured out we could stop in Omaha and visit the zoo. I know what you are thinking: wow. The Omaha Zoo - that has to be thrilling. Oh! But it is. It's one of my favorite zoos.

We decided to hit the highlights and visit three buildings: The desert dome with the Kingdom of Night below it, the Scott aquarium (which we had never seen before) and the Lied jungle building. One of the best things about this zoo the fact that you are emerged in the environment and that many of the exhibits are cageless. For example these two guys in the dome are roaming around freely. There's no glass, no wires, nothing between you and the wildlife. Or I should say the less dangerous wildlife. Of course the bobcat is safely tucked away from us.

The Kingdoms of the Night shows the nocturnal animals in their natural settings. Highlights include a "bottomless" pit right along side the trail. You can put your hand right into the water. Unfortunately the illusion was broken by some idiot who had thrown a coin in the pit and you could see it "hanging" in mid-air about four inches down where, apparently, the glass floor starts. There is also a bat cave with a 70 foot ceiling. My favorite exhibit is the last one - the swamp with the floating boardwalk. It features a Trapper's Cabin, a beaver lodge, cypress trees and 30 swamp animal species, including opossums, beavers, muskrats (or a river otter or something), in barrier free habitats. This would be Morgan's least favorite due to the alligators that are right under foot. Since all these exhibits are in the dark, it's hard to get any good pictures.

Next, we headed over the Scott's Aquarium. Morgan stopped to show us how excited she was to be at the zoo.

Again, because of the glass, it was hard to get any good pictures at the aquarium. It wasn't a very large aquarium, but we managed to spend quite a bit of time there. We spent a lot of time watching the Antarctic penguin exhibit in the beginning. There were two baby King penguins but boy, they were not little. They were as tall as their parents at about three feet tall. They towered over all the other types of penguins. It was hard to believe they were babies.

We also spent a lot of time sitting in the shark tunnel and watching the sharks and stingrays swim all around us. There was also a blowfish that was checking us out.

New to the zoo this year was the Skyfari - an arial view of the park. The ride takes you in an open air lift over the giraffest, cheetah yard, Garden of the Senses, the lagoon, monkey island, elephants and rhinos. It was really neat to get this different view of the animals. We were so close, we could have jumped on the animals backs.

Our last stop was the Lied Jungle building, the largest indoor rain forest, where one follows a jungle path while observing animals that are free ranging or contained behind water and rock barriers. Below, Mark is thrilled to be demonstrating how to cross one of the rope bridges.

This curious little guy is right on the railing you see above. There is nothing between it and us. If it wanted to, it could jump right on our shoulder. Mark wanted to come back with a banana in his pocket and see what would happen.

Futher down, a sloth was literally hanging directly over our heads.

Lucky for us , it was bat feeding time when we walked through. See those two brown shapes in the top center of the picture? Yep. Bats. About 50 bats swarming back and forth among the food. And no. These are not behind glass either. And yes. They were dive bombing right by our heads. Strangely enough, Morgan, who was freaked out at the bat cave where the bats were safely tucked behind glass, stood here for a long time calming watching the bats fly to and fro. I, on the other hand, wasn't quite as calm. As another panicked visitor pointed out to her boyfriend who was telling her to look at how calm that little girls was: Yes, but she's short so the bats aren't right at her head!

Although we only did three buildings and the Skyfari, we were at the zoo for almost 5 hours. When it was closing time, it was time for us to drive on to Luverne, MN - our stop for the night.

(As a side note, the zoo is opening a new Madagascar exhibit to house rare lemurs and orchids. The zoo has a multiyear wish list that includes an Arctic Center, a new elephant habitat, an Australian exhibit with kangaroos and an Antelope Valley exhibit. All good reasons to keep coming back year after year.)

1 comment:

Staci said...

What great photos! It sounds like an amazing zoo!

Though the bats would freak me out too. I can barely stand seeing one or two flying around at night!