VISITING THE BIRMINGHAM ZOO
School may be starting back; but officially it is STILL summer!
Don’t let the fun end yet; there is still time for a few more summer activities before fall arrives.
Can I make a great suggestion for that first weekend after a stressful first week of classes and homework?
Visit the Birmingham Zoo.
A VISIT THAT BRINGS BACK PERSONAL MEMORIES
It had been years and years since I had ventured out to The Birmingham Zoo, but one day my grandchildren and two of my grown daughters gave me the happy opportunity to visit there again. Fond memories from many years back at this particular zoo flooded my mind; and it was delightful to revisit some of those old memories.
I was so impressed with all of the progress. The growth and changes since the days I first discovered the zoo and the present times are simply amazing.
A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON
The Birmingham Zoo and I were actually born during the same year! That would make this zoo now almost 63 years old. Can you imagine the excitement way back in 1955 when their gates first opened in Birmingham, Alabama?
My parents took me along year after year to see this exciting new place, and together we all made history; being a few of the very first visitors to explore the site.
So much has changed between now and then.
“Monkey Island” as we used to call it when I was a kid is gone. Monkeys now have their own special section with the “Primates.” I did hear a rumor though that The City of Trussville might be building a Monkey Island replica in their city park to honor the first original exhibit from the Birmingham Zoo. So many have memories of that place! If all continues and goes well; that duplicate of the zoo’s old Monkey Island just might happen sometime in 2017 or 2018. We will see.
Another old exhibit that I remember being a big attraction back “in the day” were the polar bears. They are not there anymore either. Alabama weather and polar bears seem to have finally clashed. I suspect that is why the exhibit eventually disappeared. However; you might have just as much fun visiting the new Black Bear exhibit instead.
MANY MORE EXHIBITS TO EXPLORE
There are so many more new exhibits now! The addition of two shiny new trains is also a crowd pleaser.
These days the whole zoo experience is very educational, hands-on, and just a lot of plain old-fashioned fun. Lots of new and exciting experiences are happening in this spacious zoological park. Don’t take my word for it though; you simply must come along and see for yourself!
As I explained earlier, being a child from the late 50’s and early 60’s, the zoo holds a special place in my heart. Back during that era it was called The Jimmy Morgan Zoo.
After the kids of my generation grew up we all wanted to take our children to see the place we loved so much.
Many years after I was grown; in the 1990’s the Zoo began to go through some tough financial troubles. Problems developed left and right, and the once happy place was almost forced to close its doors. Funding was very hard to come by in those days, and keeping such an operation running properly was almost impossible without the needed funds.
The many concerned citizens of the city who deeply loved and appreciated the zoo and wanted it restored for the sake of their own children and grandchildren began to rally together to try to come up with logical and workable solutions. No one wanted to lose the zoo!
SOME BENEFICIAL CHANGES
In 1990 the Mayor of Birmingham made a very hard decision and decided that the zoo would become a private operation. A new board of directors was formed which eventually came to be known as Birmingham Zoo Inc. This turned out to be a very smart move. Since that time the zoo has operated as a private, not-for-profit organization and the new organization has seen an amazing recovery.
The Birmingham Zoo is noted among the top zoos in the nation now.
The citizens of Birmingham are very proud of this local achievement. The CEO of the zoo, William Foster, DVM, has charted an exciting new course in all the right directions and has initiated drastic improvements in how the zoo is managed and maintained. His credentials are amazing and his zoo and veterinary experience has inspired much of what has happened here.
Renew the Zoo is one of the newest programs that has been introduced, and it is gaining ground for developing a new habitat for Asian species.
Now days there is so much new life going on at the zoo!
There are many wonderful annual community events being held, such as the local favorite “Zoo Light Safari” that always fills the acres of the park with a beautiful winter wonderland of twinkling, musical light shows during the Christmas season.
There is also the famous “Boo At The Zoo” that happens in the fall.
These two events are only a few of many taking place all the time. The zoo is a favorite tourist attraction now not only for those who hail from the “Ham,” but also for people who travel into town from miles away. It is known for being one of the most popular tourist attraction in the State of Alabama.
A GREAT PLACE TO TAKE THE GRANDCHILDREN
What an excellent way to spend some time with your grandchildren!
As of this writing the cost is only $16 for adults and $11 for children over two years old. Two and under are free!
There are special passes you can purchase if you plan on returning again and again. I highly recommend purchasing one of these plans. Not only do you benefit from the use of it; but much of the zoo is funded from the money made from these passes. You would be making a great contribution to the community while enabling yourself to spend the days of each season enjoying yourself.
THINGS YOU MIGHT NEED TO KNOW
If you have a toddler, you will want to bring a stroller. You WILL need it. You could spend, not just one whole day here; but many days. With so many events and activities, there is lots of walking involved. Of course, it you forget to bring your own stroller, there are strollers available to rent for $9 each. Double strollers rent for $11. Wheelchairs are available for $10 and electric scooters for $25. We brought our own.
I would also recommend that you fill your child’s water bottle to the brim with fresh cold water and perhaps tuck a few small snacks handily into your purse for short rest periods. Bring along water for yourself too! You WILL get thirsty. Drinks for sale and scattered water fountains are available, but you might get thirsty in an area where these are not so convenient.
Food is also available for sale in several places.
Remember to use sunscreen and bug repellent that is healthy and not full of chemicals, and visors and sunglasses are most appreciated as you travel through the jungles here.
Wear loose and comfortable clothing; because most likely you will get hot.
It would not be a bad idea for your child to carry a small see-through back pack to hold their souvenirs and water bottles in order to let their hands remain free for the hand-on adventures. That would also keep you from feeling like a bell-boy from the local hotel because you are loaded down from carrying all of their baggage around.
There are convenient diaper changing stations in the plentiful restroom areas. You should remember to carry baby wipes for those sticky little hands and those chocolate ice cream smiles that you are sure to accumulate on this adventure.
Most important of all, if you are a grandmother (like me) and you cherish every minute with your grandchildren; BRING YOUR CAMERA!!! At the end of the day the photos where priceless! There is also a little photo booth that you can pay for where your pictures roll out trimmed in zoo themes.
TIMES AND DATES AND OTHER SUCH THINGS
The Birmingham Zoo is open from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. till 7 p.m. on weekends. The address is: 2630 Cahaba Road, Birmingham, AL 35223. You can call them for answers to any questions or concerns at 205-879-0409. Any information you might need can be found by using the internet; and the location is easy to find using your GPS or by using Map-it.
The Birmingham Zoo’s website has a very good map of what is available and the order of the exhibits. It is well worth checking out. You can pay in advance on-line and you can print out a schedule of what is available and going on during the time you visit. This is all very handy and keeps you from waiting.
ONCE INSIDE YOU ARE ON A WILD ADVENTURE
There is wonder and excitement around every corner.
This zoo contains exhibits for over 950 animal species and the land for the zoo covers over 122 acres all together. These exhibits are often joined by “traveling exhibits” too.
Many exhibits are not just “there” to look at; but they are interactive and they give young and old alike a way to actually participate with the animals and to be educated about their habitats.
Safety precautions are well thought out and are in use at every station. You can make lots of furry friends and become a part of the fascinating world and the habitat from which they live and thrive.
A GRAND NEW ENTRANCE WELCOMES YOU
My awareness of a sense of “newness” was sparked immediately upon entering the zoo. There I would see where an exciting new entrance is presently being planned and designed.
It looks like it will be magnificent when finished! They were still finishing the work during our visit. For the time being, we entered through the old entrance; and we were greeted with several lovely planters filled with bright beautiful flowers as we made our way through the fast-moving line.
I apologize for the fact that my seven-year-old grandson accidentally picked a few of these flowers. Please understand that I made up for this in my annual donation this year. He did not know that they were only there to look pretty! When I explained this to him I was quickly told that his little cousin who was meeting us at the zoo needed these flowers to put in her hair!
Oh the world of a seven-year-old boy! After that first little panic, and the sweet understanding greeting from the helpful attendant at the gate; we were off to a day full of excellent fun.
THE MARKETPLACE GIFT SHOP AND THE KUDZOO CAFE
We walked into an area containing The Marketplace Gift Shop and nearby was one of the two cafes at the Zoo; called The Kudzoo Café.
If you are into souvenirs, and are going to let your child buy one; I recommend that you set a budget and let them look around for about five minutes before you start the days adventure. Tell them to be considering what they want to buy when you are leaving the park, because this will be in close proximity to where you exit (you travel in a circular motion as you walk around the zoo. (In the slightly edited words of T.S Elliot; “the end is only the beginning.”)
At any rate; if you take my advice, you will not have to carry everything around ALL DAY LONG. This would also keep you from spending an hour or two of your time with your child in the gift shop trying to decide on a ten dollar toy instead of enjoying what you actually came for.
Keep in mind that this is not the only place to buy such things. There is the Lorikeet Aviary Tiki Hut and the Giraffe Encounter Outpost further down the road.
I will say that the gift items I saw were of top quality and more interesting than most. Much of it is priced around $20 – $50. There are some small items that are less expensive though.
The T-shirts are cute and expressive. Everything was eco-friendly and the cute stuffed animals were perfect little replicas of the ones you will be studying on your visit. Some of them are very novel and fit right in with the zoo themes.
My little group didn’t stay in the gift shop long. We were here for the experience and the memories; not the stuff.
THE HUGH KAUL CHILDREN’S ZOO
We soon found ourselves walking deep into the Junior League of Birmingham’s Hugh Kaul Children’s zoo.
Then we actually took a turn away from this area, more toward the left and headed for the Predator zone because we wanted to save the Play fountain and the Carousel Ride in this nice area for last.
The Play fountain is a wonderful and nicely designed splash pad where the kids can really enjoy getting soaked in the water after along day of walking in the sunshine. There are tables and chairs for the adults with aching feet to sit and watch them run and play. A rest for everyone!
WHERE TO EAT LUNCH
The Kudzoo Café as well as the Safari Café were surprisingly good stops for fast food at the zoo.
The food was not cheap; but it was reasonable enough for the quality; which I thought was good and nutritious for the most part. They had an excellent variety of foods available on their menus. We found it very convenient to eat lunch at one of these two cafes during the middle of the day.
Food is NOT allowed inside the zoo grounds. However, if you want to leave in the middle of the day, grab the picnic waiting in a cooler in your car, and come back to the zoo after your picnic lunch; I highly recommend carrying your picnic basket over to the Botanical Gardens just across the road from the Zoo. It is very close by and a most beautiful place to stop and rest.
On this particular day, we found the seating at the Kudzoo Café to be adequate and cool with plenty of tables and chairs both inside and outside. Everyone got just what they wanted and we enjoyed resting in the cool while we dined.
TURTLES AND FISH
Before we stopped for our lunch; and right at the beginning of our journey we looked at some of the large aquariums and said “hello” to some very large turtles and fish. My grandson LOVES turtles, so he was thrilled right from the start of our journey.
FRIENDLY BIRDS THAT LOVE TO BE FED
We headed on through a very interesting bird aviary and saw some nice exhibits of all types of winged friends.
We were able to enter a caged area and do some hands-on feeding ourselves and were even able to let a bird light and perch on our hand here. The kids were delighted!
There were over 300 types of birds.
My granddaughter loved the flamingos.
REPTILES GALORE AND SEA LIONS TOO
We toured an exhibit with some pretty amazing reptiles and we took in a show starring some fantastically entertaining Sea Lions.
We walked through some pretty swampy areas and saw an alligator poking his head up out of the vegetation growing over the swamp water!
We crossed over a wooden bridge to get across the swampy lake area.
It wasn’t long before we saw the zoo’s train station and we gladly hopped aboard the train and took a little ride all around the zoo.
There are actually two trains available; the Birmingham Zoo Express and The Red Diamond Express. The train conductor navigates through the different areas of the zoo and he is full of interesting stories about each area.
Soon we found ourselves headed toward The Trails of Africa exhibits, and along the way we stopped to let my grandson take a fun ride on The Wild Slide. Later when I asked him his favorite part of the zoo he surprised me by telling me this was it.
Our first real physical “interaction with the animals” came when we visited the giraffes.
My daughter helped my granddaughter enjoy feeding the giraffes, and my grandson who is a good bit older got to feed them by himself.
Both children were delighted with this activity. They took away the facts that giraffes are herbivores; which means they eat only plants. Their long necks allow them to reach the leaves, buds and branches very high up in mimosa and acacia trees. They can eat hundreds of pounds of leaves each week! We did our part by feeding them at least two pounds of that food for the day!
After we fed the giraffes, we took off to explore the Trails of Africa. There were elephants, rhinos and river hogs hiding out in the natural habitats of this area. This is a quiet zone, a good place to calm down from your last adventure and just take in the awesome animals on exhibit.
The huge crates that the rhinos sometimes travel in were open and out for display on the ground. I would not want to be the driver hauling these crates big enough to haul the largest animals.
The kids had a blast just jumping and playing inside these HUGE hauling crates and pretending like they were animals.
My granddaughter squealed with laughter when my grandson peaked in at her from outside the crate through the holes left in the sides for breathing. Who would have ever thought that large wooden crates for hauling rhinos could be this entertaining?
I have to admit this was the place where the most giggles were exchanged! Even my grown daughter joined in on this. Oh yeah – we forgot it was a quiet zone. Fortunately, the walls of the crates stopped our laughter from echoing too far.
The zebras were so fascinating to look at. They were all dressed up in black and white, as if they had an important social event to attend.
Here we also encountered the majestic King of the Jungle! There is a stately male lion and a female lion. He is one year older than her. They are magnificent and I could have stood in front of them forever and not become tired of gazing at them. I think the lion is my favorite animal at the zoo. There was an inside exhibit too that housed various other members of the “cat” family.
Have you ever ridden a camel?
Another one of my nephew’s favorite adventures was the camel ride. Did you know that camels have two rows of eyelashes? That is so that their eyes will be protected in the desert dust.
No doubt about it; camels are cool!
THE ALABAMA WILDS AND LAURA INGALLS SHOOK BLACK BEAR TRAIL
We continued on down the road to the Alabama Wilds and took in the Laura Ingalls Shook Black Bear Trail.
We didn’t have time for the zip-line adventure today, but we made a note of it for another visit soon. It sure looked like fun!
We saw the Brock Cabin Area and even petted some of the more tame animals that were more local to Birmingham.
While we were visiting there was a terrific exhibit featuring dinosaurs!
THE DINO DISCOVERY EXHIBIT
The Dino Discovery Exhibit featured life-sized North American native animatronics dinosaurs. Some of them were 20 feet tall weighing almost seven tons and measuring 85 feet in length!
The trail had these creatures that once roamed the earth 160 million years ago. The sound effects here are very authentic, and it may frighten a few of the little ones so be sure to hold their hands tightly. One dinosaur sprayed us good with water. My granddaughter remembers this vividly and her eyes turn into huge pools when she speaks of it now. She also remembers the little baby dinosaur at the end of the trail. He was really cute!
My grandson loved getting up close and personal with these monsters. I can just hear him now telling all of his friends at school about how he petted a dinosaur! This exhibit was only in town for a short while. I’m so glad we caught it.
From time to time there are many other special traveling events that come to the zoo. You just have to watch the events schedule to see when they will come for a visit.
THE CAROUSEL AT THE END
This was the case for my sweet little granddaughter. The carousel was amazing and you don’t need for me to describe it any further than to tell you to look in her eyes in the pictures. It was magical!
My grandson thought so too (though he was an experienced carousel rider from way back by now), and you know he chose to ride an ostrich because he didn’t think he had spent enough time with them earlier.
All the animals on the carousel were animals we had previously met inside the zoo.
After a few more adventures in the awesome splash pad; our day at the zoo finally came to a close and were headed home; tired, happy and full of the kinds of memories that live in your heart forever.