Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Trip to the Zoo Disappoints

When I was a kid, my folks took me to Cincinnati to see the zoo there. I don’t remember too much about it because I was quite young, maybe 6 or 7. But I do remember they had trash cans shaped like hippos that sucked in the garbage with vacuums in their mouths. I thought it was cool.

I remember monkeys and other animals in cages, as though they were in jail. It was hard to see most of them and many of the animals were not active. It also stank.

When I became a parent, I took my two kids to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago a couple of times. It was a nice experience, except that almost everything cost extra. We had to pay more to see the dolphin show, which we passed up. We had to pay more for the petting zoo. The same was true for the St. Louis Zoo, but it was at least free to get in the gate.

At the time, the zoo in Indianapolis was called the Indianapolis Children’s Zoo and it was located on the east side of town. It made for a good visit, but they were a bit deficient on animals. Again most of them were behind bars, but at least they were smaller bars so you could see the animals better.

When the new Indianapolis Zoo opened in the mid-1980s I was excited. Although I didn’t live in the area then, I visited every summer and the zoo was a great place to take my kids. So was the Children’s Museum.

The Children’s Museum added on a planetarium and a CineDome theater that surrounded the audience with the movie. They were awesome treats for the kids and for their parents. The CineDome is, sadly, no longer there.

Since then, the Indianapolis Zoo has added some new animals and exhibits. When I first attended, neither the dolphin pavilion nor the dessert biome was complete. Now, they have a nice walk-under display at the dolphin pavilion. And most recently, they have remodeled the old Waters building, now calling it the Oceans building.

I recently visited for the first time since the improvements. I took my daughter, who is no longer a kid. But I was eager to see the Oceans display.

The Indianapolis Zoo has much better animal exhibits than the zoos I remember as a child or even as I remember at Chicago. Although the St. Louis Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo may be larger and have more animals, the Indianapolis Zoo is somewhat unique in the way it chooses to display its animals. They are separated into biomes, which are large areas of the planet with similar climate characteristics, such as grasslands, rain forests, desserts, and deciduous forests.

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed during my last visit. The Oceans building was nice, but it wasn’t much different from the old Waters building. The big difference was that the Amazon Rain Forest exhibit has been replaced with a dogfish shark display that allows visitors to pet the small sharks.

It’s fun for the kids, I guess, but I miss the Amazon display. And I was expecting that, since they were remodeling, they would include one of those walk-through ocean aquariums where the fish are swimming all around you. But they didn’t have that.

At $13.50 a pop, and typically a full parking lot, one might expect continuous additions and improvements. But since the 1980s, not much has changed. The horse-drawn tram is gone; that was a nice ride. They’ve added a carousel and a couple of other kiddy rides that cost extra, but nothing stands out as spectacular.

But it’s not tax supported, like the St. Louis Zoo, and it is much better than it was before it moved to White River State Park. And I believe they are planning to add some larger primates in the near future.

But at this stage, one visit every couple of years is enough. Even then, each visit is pretty much like the last one.

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