Love is in the air at the Salisbury Zoo. This Sunday, Feb. 13th, the zoo is celebrating Valentine’s Day with a program that shows off the Lovers of the Natural World. These are the animals which mate for life, including the Red Wolf and the Bald Eagle. The program is at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the education center. Admission is FREE, although the zoo will never turn down a donation!
The Salisbury Zoo is an often-forgotten and overlooked treat. Set among the trees and along the water in Salisbury’s city park, it’s as much a part of the neighborhood as the walking trails that lace through the park. Some of the paths skirt the enclosures and many of the houses overlook the animals. It must be pretty cool to have your morning coffee watching the critters get started on their day. It’s open daily and it’s FREE!
It is very unusual for a city as small as Salisbury to have any kind of zoo, much less one this well-designed. Each enclosure tried to replicate the animals’ natural habitat as much as possible. They’ve got room to move around and the sorts of plants and terrain that they’d find in the wild. Some people say zoos are unfair and unnatural. I posed that to a friend of mine who worked at the National Aquarium. She felt that the concern about the animals was a good thing because it was demonstrating one of the reasons zoos and aquariums exist. “People don’t care about what they don’t see,” she told me. “But when they come to the aquarium and see the dolphin show or find the sloth in the rainforest (exhibit) they care what happens to them in the wild.” She also pointed out that studying animals in the wild is difficult and a captive population gives veterinarians and scientists some idea of what’s normal and healthy for that species as well as a cushion for population in areas where habitat decline or disease threaten the species.
The zoo focuses on animals from the Americas, but it’s not trying to present a comprehensive living catalog of species. It’s large enough to have lots of displays and animals, but small enough that you can take the time to see and enjoy them all without feeling like you’re racing to finish a checklist before closing. You can trade unblinking stares with the jaguar and watch the red wolves look longingly into the white-tail deer enclosure. I can spend hours watching the antics of the river otters. The flamingos are always a big hit while the alligator disappoints kids by refusing to do anything terrifying. (I’ve always thought ‘gators are kind of the Jimmy Buffetts of the reptile world – just hangin’ out and being mellow). Then there are the animals you haven’t heard of or probably haven’t seen, like the ocelot (wasn’t there a really bad TV series about a female private eye who had an ocelot as a pet?) the capybara (it’s a bird), and the Patagonian Cavy (which looks like a rabbit that wanted to become a kangaroo). The elder statesman of the zoo is Poopsie, the female Andean Bear who turned 37 in December. She holds court next to the beaver display.
The zoo is in the middle of a $3-million capital campaign which will give it new facilities and new exhibits. This is not the best time to be looking for money, but it is critical. In order for the zoo to maintain its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, it needs a new animal health clinic. This will be state-of-the-art with examining rooms, an operating theater, on-site laboratories, and quarantine facilities. That’s the big ticket item, with a price tag of $1.5 million
The other plans will bring the rest of the zoo experience up to that same level. A new interactive Environmental Center is designed to augment the zoo experience for the 20,000 students and the dozens of special programs for kids and families throughout the year. The center will also be a ‘green’ building and use environmentally friendly and effective technology that will be incorporated into some of the programs. One of the focuses on the center is the magnitude of the changes in the world’s amphibians and what that means to nature and man.
Then there’s the new exhibit. Crikey, Mates, we’re going Down Under! Moving away from the animals of the Americas, the new exhibit will bring in animals from Australia. You’ll get to see a wallaby overwhelmingly cute little kangaroos), hear a Kookaburra laugh (sounds like a deranged monkey), and watch the too-colorful-to-be-real lorikeets swoop overhead in the walk-through aviary. It will be interactive and full of information about Oz’s unique plant and animal life.
Both the Environmental Center and the Australian exhibit come with $750,000 price tags, but they won’t be started until the health clinic is paid for. Information about the campaign is on the zoo’s website: www.salisburyzoo.org. The zoo is open daily from 9-4:30.