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Zoos bring out the kid in all of us

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer, September 27, 2013

I can’t remember the first time I visited a zoo, but it was probably before I could walk. Growing up, I lived two hours from one of the world’s greatest zoos in San Diego, Calif. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the San Diego Zoo with the next generation of our family, and I saw the zoo through fresh, young eyes.

Children, of course, love the animals most, but today’s zoos offer so much more on the state of the natural world and the conservation of animals in their habitats.

Our own Binder Park Zoo has been around for 33 years, and hosts more than 30,000 children and their families every year. What’s not to like about a local zoo with one of the largest giraffe herds in the country?


I think they do an especially wonderful job at making conservation education fun. Binder Park is active in species survival programs and manages several rare and endangered species such as Delilah, the zoo’s female red panda and her cubs. I especially love the zoo during the fall. The cooler weather requires some of the animals to be inside, but most are still out enjoying the season. The zoo is open every day for one more week and then offers several fall events through Halloween.

Coming up next Sunday, from 6 to 10 p.m., the zoo will host its fourth annual BontebOktoberfest. The event is named after the bonteboks, a species of antelope from the grasslands of South Africa (you can visit the herd on the savannah at Binder Park’s Wild Africa exhibit). Designed for the 21-and-older group, the event will feature beer from several Michigan craft breweries. Live music and food make this a very special kind of Oktoberfest. Tickets are needed, but you’ll also get the first opportunity to taste a special Binder Park Zoo brew from Arcadia Brewing Company. For the first time, out of town guests can get a special room rate at the Holiday Inn in Battle Creek along with shuttle service to the zoo.

Kids are the special guests at The Great Zooboo Oct. 11–27, when the zoo sets up a special trick or treat trail through the park. I’ve participated in the merry, not scary, event for many years. The trails are lined with carved, lighted pumpkins. As night falls, it’s a very special place to be, as kids of all ages walk around dressed in their Halloween finest.

You don’t have to stop going to the zoo once Binder Park closes for the season. Two hours down the road, the Detroit Zoo is open all year long. My favorite exhibit at the zoo is the Penguinarium, the first facility in North America designed specifically for penguins. Watching the penguins “fly through the water” is a special design feature of the exhibit’s continuous pool, which allows the penguins to swim fast enough to fly — well, almost! The exhibit simulates the habitats for the different species that live there, including king, macaroni and rockhopper penguins. The zoo also has a special penguin experience called “Happy Feet Mumble’s Wild Ride.” In your specially equipped, motion-simulated, big-screen theater seat, you’ll find yourself traveling down the frozen cliffs of Antarctica.

Other major exhibits include the Arctic Ring of Life, Australian Outback Adventure, Great Apes of Harambee, National Amphibian Conservation Center, Holden Reptile Conservation Center and the Butterfly Garden. Check out their website for special events all year long, starting with the fall festival next weekend.

Get in touch with your inner wild animal and make a trip to any one of Michigan’s 48 zoos (

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