Fun at the zoo

Today is my daughter Katie’s birthday, and she wanted to go to the zoo. So she and I and a couple of her friends went to the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines.

Billed as “Iowa’s Wildest Adventure,” the Blank Park Zoo is  the only accredited zoo in the state of Iowa. The zoo manages 49 acres of land, 22 acres of which have been developed into animal exhibits or facilities. There are currently  104 different animal species and 1,484 total animal specimens at the zoo.

The first thing you notice when you get there is all the construction. A new park, entrance and animal exhibit are being constructed north of the main parking lot. The entrance will include a new road, sidewalks, bike path, pond, and landscaping. This is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The park area, which will include a picnic shelter and playground, will be finished in 2012, and the animal exhibit will be constructed in 2013.

Inside, the sea lion pool is being reconstructed, so there are no sea lions currently on display.

The zoo expansion will be a nice improvement, because if there is anything I can criticize about Blank Park Zoo is that it’s a little small. Not that I mind, because I think it’s OK to be able to see a zoo in a couple of hours, but I’d enjoy spending more time there if there were new or improved exhibits.

I do enjoy this zoo, though. It’s set up in sections that include the Discovery Center, big cats and primates, Australia, Africa, and (usually) sea lions and other marine animals.

The Discovery Center reminds me somewhat of the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, which is really a world-class zoo just beyond the western border of Iowa. That’s a zoo in which you can spend a full day and walk yourself silly. The Discovery Center combines some of the things in Henry Doorly: an aquarium and rainforest, plus some other exhibits.

Once we walked through that area, we visited the flamingoes and then made a bee-line for the giraffes. You can feed giraffes at special times of the day (today it was 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.), and although my daughter is 25, she still loves to feed the animals. So we did that, along with a bunch of other families with preschoolers.

Feeding giraffes is hard work, so we took a break at the snack bar and watched some extremely entertaining monkeys for awhile. Apparently they were performing some sort of mating ritual.

Then it was back to the front of the zoo, where we could take our time visiting the chattering Japanese Macaques, sleepy African lions, and the gorgeous Amur tiger. We walked through the Australia section, and I tried to take pictures of a wallaby without much luck.

Happily, there was a cardboard cut-out for me to photograph. That’s Katie as the little joey.

We went to the petting zoo and fed the goats and a really adorable llama. Inside that exhibit I overheard one very young boy tell his father, “But I don’t know HOW to ‘spend wisely,'” and another father asking his toddler daughter, with goat chow in her fist, “Did you just put those in your mouth?” Ha! I don’t miss those days.

A special dinosaur exhibit, which  opened May 27 and runs through Sept. 5, is on display at the ZooPlex. The dinosaur replicas range from full scale to half scale and are up to 32 feet long. Several of the replicas are animatronic. The little kids seemed to love them.

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