What’s new at the Denver Zoo

With 3 kids who love animals, we’ve spent more time at zoos in the past decade than most people spend in their lifetime. Currently our oldest daughter is even a docent- volunteer at our local zoo in Utah. So when we got the chance to visit the Denver Zoo, we couldn’t pass it up. Yes, most zoos house just about the same varieties of animals, but we soon discovered Denver has some unique elements that are pushing the boundaries and setting new standards for zoos across the nation. Stimulating, naturalistic environments and eco-friendly operations are just a few of the advances the Denver Zoo is committed to mastering this year. This level of dedication isn’t new to the zoo, in fact, it began over a 100 yrs. ago when the zoo was initially created.

It all began with a special gift to the mayor of Denver back in 1896, a black bear, named Billy Bryan. That was the humble beginnings of  what is today one of the most popular zoos in the United States, the Denver Zoo.

What makes this  80-acre facility located in the center of City Park of Denver so unique is the how cutting edge and forward thinking it’s been since its inception. It was the first American zoo to use naturalistic habitats, that was over 100 years ago. Now, it’s utilizing trash and animal waste to power portions of the zoo and create one of the greenest zoo environments in the world. This zoo has consistently been a trailblazer in advancing education and advocacy for  animals, and it was a pleasure to see it up close during our visit.

Did you know that when you visit the bear exhibit you are seeing a national historic landmark?

Bear Mountain made history by becoming the first naturalistic habitat of its kind in North America. Its construction was based on giant plaster casts of rock outcroppings from an area near Morrison, Colorado, and was designed to simulate the animals’ natural habitat. It was built over 100 years ago, and still houses animals today.


The award winning Predators Ridge

Another example of advances the Denver Zoo is making in the zoo industry is Predator Ridge. Predators Ridge is an example of what accredited zoos nationwide are trying to achieve – larger, more naturalistic and educational exhibits. This exhibit features 10-foot tall mounds for lions to survey their surroundings, electric hot rocks for warmth and a separate maternity den for mothers and future cubs to enjoy. Other native animals like hyenas are rotated through the enclosure to give the lions a more enriching environment. Because of it’s realistic nature this exhibit received awards from the AZA, and remains one of the highlights not to be missed when you visit.


The brand new Toyota Elephant Passage

By far, the biggest and most impressive exhibit is the new Toyota Elephant Passage that opened June 2012. It houses 3 elephants and many other Asian species on the 10 acre property. It’s set up in a manner that allows the elephants to rotate through 3 different spaces, giving them a change of scenery and stimulation and freedom to roam that is unprecedented.

Besides the positive impact this new exhibit has on the animals, it’s having a positive effect on the environment as well. The new Toyota Elephant Passage turns human trash and animal waste into energy. The innovative gasification system will convert more than 90 percent of the zoo’s waste into usable energy to power the exhibit, eliminating 1.5 million pounds of trash currently going to landfills annually. Hopefully their example of how to create the best possible environment for the elephants, and save energy doing it will be an example other zoos will follow.

Quick Tips for your visit:

  1. Go early-  The animals are usually more active in the early morning and early evening, so if you want to see them moving around, get there as soon as it opens.
  2. Map out the live shows firstSome of the animal shows, feedings or live demonstrations are held only once per day, so arrange a plan that ensures you get to see them, and fill in the time between shows with exhibits that are open all day long.
  3. Feeding Lorikeets-  If you’d like to experience the fun of feeding lorikeets from your hand, and have them land on various parts of your body, do this early in the day. They are hungry in the morning, but after eating from the hands of numerous visitors, they are full by the afternoon. My kids loved this when they were little, and it makes for a great photo opportunity as well.
  4. Stay cool & hydrated- While there are some shady areas to rest and eat a picnic lunch, the majority of the paths are not shaded. Likewise, the sea lion show is in direct sunlight, and there’s no seating- you stand while watching it. Be prepared with hats, sunglasses, perhaps even an umbrella if you are senstive to the sun. Water bottles are $2.50 a piece in the zoo, and you’ll probably need to drink several during the day so plan that into your budget, or bring your own water bottles and refill them as needed.
  5. Be kind to your feet- As in most zoos, there’s several hills to walk throughout the zoo, and it’s a fairly big distance from one side of the park to the other. Be kind to your feet and wear proper walking shoes. It pains me to see women walking from one exhibit to the next, clearly  uncomfortable in their high heels. Forgo making a fashion statement and enjoy your time with the animals.
  6. Take advantage of the Education availableThe zoo’s website has an abundant amount of information available to prepare you for your trip. There’s guides to animal conservation, educational programs for teachers and students, and a teen program for those interested in more in depth knowledge of animals.

So as you can see, if you are in the Denver area, the Zoo is worth the day trip to explore it. It has a lot to offer both young and old, animal lover and environmentalist alike.

Have you been to the Denver Zoo? What was your experience like? What’s your favorite animal exhibit? Leave your thoughts in the comments below~ we’d love to hear from you!

We are grateful to the Denver Zoo staff for their hospitality, and to Visit Denver for arranging the opportunity.


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