“The Biggest River Otters”

Ever since I moved to Raleigh in October of last year, I’ve been eying the North Carolina Zoo. Unlike South Carolina’s Riverbanks Zoo (and virtually every other major zoo in the United States…), the NC Zoo is nowhere near the state’s major cities, interstates, or really anything else.

Since Harper’s down in Chapin until my apartment is ready, I decided to go adventuring this past Saturday.

The zoo’s in Asheboro, NC, which is roughly halfway between Charlotte and Raleigh. But I-85 in Charlotte heads north to Greensboro and I-40 in Raleigh runs west to Greensboro. Nothing goes to Asheboro except NC-49. After some early rising Saturday morning, I pulled into Asheboro after about two hours at 10am. It was confusing at first since they have a North American parking lot and an African lot. Since I had no idea what any of that meant, instinct kicked in – USA! USA!

And that’s how I settled on the North American parking lot.

First up were alligators. I’ve never really understood a zoo’s reasoning for wanting to proudly display animals that live in the area (apparently the Greenville, SC zoo has whitetail deer there….why?!). The point of going to a zoo is to see exotic animals and gather an appreciation and understanding for animals that you aren’t familiar with. Not to mention, they were tiny gators!

         
Up next were the cougars. One perk to going to places like this by yourself is that you get to overhear all sorts of conversations from the groups around you. I laughed out loud when one kid was searching all over the exhibit looking for the cougars. He finally saw the one walking around and completely missed the one sleeping 15 feet from where he was standing. In Darwin’s world, you are dinner, kid.

The “Rocky Coast” section was next. There were seabirds (puffins), a peregrine falcon, and two harbor seals. Normally, there would be two polar bears but they were on loan to other zoos until 2014 when their new exhibit opens up. Not only will it be bigger than the previous one but they’re looking to add more bears and become part of a polar bear breeding program. Pretty cool when that gets up and running.

Quick side note: The keeper had just finished feeding the harbor seals and was talking to a handful of us standing around. This young mom comes up with her husband and kid. All I hear is “Oh my gosh! Them are the biggest river otters I’ve ever seen!” The keeper showed amazing patience in that conversation. I love living in the South!

The “Streamside” had snakes, frogs, fish, otters, and a bobcat. Nothing overly exciting here except for an overly anxious turtle trying to escape.

The bears and “Prairie” section were next. There were two black bears but only the female was out and about. Bison and elk were together in the Prairie area but since it was pushing mid-90s outside, they were camped out towards the back in the shade not moving. The smartest in this group was the grizzly bear though. There was a waterfall in the exhibit and a stream that ran to a larger pool. And while I was standing there watching, the grizzly moseys over to the stream and plops down right underneath the waterfall.

    

The Sonoma Desert exhibit was pretty cool. It was this biosphere-type structure where you got to walk through the exhibits in an open-air environment. I liked watching the ocelots sleep (…because that doesn’t sound creepy…). One thing that made me mad though was that this is the area where they had the animals that lived in the dark: bats, certain cats, rodents, etc. There was a big group of Hispanics going through as the same time as me and one of them pulled out his iPhone and turned on the flashlight so he could show his kids the animals. Just a hint… if the zoo has animals living in low light, it’s probably not the best idea to instantly light everything up with a sharp, blinding light. Just inconsiderate.

    

In between the Sonora Desert exhibit and Junction Plaza (the zoo’s midpoint), the NC State Beekeepers Association had their own little building and exhibit. An elderly couple was working the building and talking to the kids intrigued by the transparent bee hive they had. The couple actually have their own bee… farm? hive? … in North Carolina where they bottle and sell honey. No fascinating pictures though.

After the bees, I appeased the inner kid in me and bought a ticket to see the show at the Dino 4-D Theater! I really had no idea what the 4th dimension was, so I was curious. And it was only $3, so I figured it was just another way to give the zoo some money. It was a cheesy 3-D movie where you were on a trek to capture dinosaurs on an island. Of course it had the expected “underwater with schools of fish” shot, the “flying with birds through the mountains” shot, and of course, the “get chased by a T-Rex and almost get eaten but saved at the last second” shot. The 4 in 4-D happened to be the “interactive” theater. There was a piece of the seat that poked you, air burst in front and behind you, and the rows shook. Like I said, cheesy but I had fun!

Next up, the Forest Aviary. I’ve never been a big fan of birds. I’m not really sure why. Even birds of prey don’t hold my interest for very long. I stopped by to say I did it but nothing really kept my attention, as seen by my pictures. It was another area you walked through, so I caught another break from the heat. One cool thing is in the first picture – it was a wall of bamboo and the plants were growing off the side of it. Also, fortunately for the birds, I didn’t get a chance to meet the Eclectus parrot. I bite back.

         

And with that, I wrapped up the North American section of the North Carolina Zoo. I was really impressed with the layout of the front half. They had a lot of different animals and a good variation of environments. They’ve got a TON of land in between exhibits too, so there’s plenty of room for more animals if they ever decide to go that route.

Tomorrow, we go to Africa!

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