Every year, I can count on my biology students to ask me if we can go on a field trip to the zoo. I respond with “I’d love to go to the zoo, would you like to meet there on Saturday at 9 am?” I get befuddled looks from them and then the confess that they didn’t really want to go to the zoo, they just wanted to get out of school. There is always, of course, a couple of students that say they would like to go, even if it was a Saturday.
This summer, I decided to revisit the St. Louis Zoo and see how it has changed. The last time I had been to the zoo, I was in high school, and I only have some vague memories of the animals there looking kind of sad, the exhibits being unattractive, and the walkways being crowded. I was happily surprised by the changes I found at the Zoo this year.
Walking the Path
The first sign of change was a new parking lot with a walkway that crosses above a busy street for a much safer experience getting into the zoo. The St. Louis Zoo is always free, but of course, you can spend extra for the parking, for the children’s zoo and other amenities. Once inside I noticed right away that I didn’t feel herded with the crowd. There were multiple shaded paths where visitors could go many different directions.
As I walked along a path with bird exhibits to either side, it was very peaceful. I didn’t feel crowded at all, and could sit at a bench and watch a little vulturine guineafowl as it went about its daily activities. In this little alcove, I saw very few people walk by and that’s not because the zoo wasn’t crowded, it was. The designers have just cleverly created many branches to paths so that people aren’t clumped together as they go from exhibit to exhibit.
Even along these shaded, wooded paths, little kiosks for water and gifts were cleverly camouflaged, all part of the decor and zoo experience. I also noticed huge habitat improvements and improvements in the way visitors could view the animals. The hippopotamus swam by a large window where children had their faces pressed to the glass. I was trying to snap a picture of a hippopotamus when I accidentally got this photo of a boy who seemed to be more interested in the fish.
Throughout the park, there were signs of interactive exhibits and sculptures. For example, in the insect exhibit, you could press buttons to hear the various sounds cicadas made. At some of the large exhibits, signs listed a time when you could be at the spot to “meet a zookeeper”.
Staff was on hand to describe the animal and its habitat and to point out interesting things that a casual observer might miss. Near the chimpanzee exhibit, a zookeeper was giving the names of each of the chimps and describing their individual personalities. The chimpanzees were fed near glass windows also, where visitors could get literally eye-to-eye with their primate cousins.
Perhaps next year, I will revise my opinion about taking a field trip to the zoo, overall it was a pleasant experience. My only complaint is that some of the paths and signs were not clearly marked and I never did find the reticulated giraffe.