When people think about Ohio, they might not realize that it is home to a large number of top-notch, nationally acclaimed zoos. In fact, Ohio is home to FIVE of the nation’s BEST zoos: Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, Akron Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, The Toledo Zoo, and Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Ohio and California are the only states with at least three zoos that draw more than 1 million people a year. Because this week is National Zookeeper’s Week, I wanted to put a spotlight on one of my favorite zoos: the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
With all of these zoos in Ohio, what makes Cleveland’s stand out? For starters, The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo showcases 3,000 species of animals, including the largest collection of primate species in North America, representing more than 600 species – an incredibly impressive fact!
I also personally take preference to it because of nostalgia. I used to come to the Cleveland Zoo as a kid, and even as a high schooler. Our high school Ecology Club would take yearly field trips to the zoo every spring, it and it was always one of the highlights of the year. Since my fireld trips were many years ago, I was happy to learn that the zoo still offers great experiences for students and teachers looking to go on a field trip today.
Even if you’re an adult, you can register for a unique behind the scenes experience at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, known as “Inside Tracks”. Zoo staff will take you on a 90-minute program that includes fun-filled facts about animal care, behavior and conservation. Inside Tracks offers the opportunity to explore areas to see how the zoo takes care of the animals. Currently, those areas include: koalas, wallaby, grizzly bears, and porcupines. Some featured experiences may include training sessions and get close opportunities with animals, and a look at animal holding areas. This is an additional cost to regular zoo admission, but is totally worth it!
Another hands-on experience is the Giraffe Encounter, where you get the opportunity to feed the world’s tallest animals right from your hand! You pay just $2.50 for the giraffe food, and get to watch up close as their long black tongues snatch it from your fingers! It’s a sight to see and is bound to put a smile on your face. And for more smiles, take a ride on the train, carousel, or the 4-D animal ride!
In my mind, the biggest thing that sets Cleveland Zoo apart from others is its massive rainforest attraction. This completely indoor exhibit makes for a perfect refuge from summer’s heat, or from rainy days (the last time I went to the zoo, we stayed almost entirely in the rainforest, since it was pouring outside)! You can spend hours and hours in the rainforest exhibit, and you’ll feel like you’re right smack dab in the middle of the jungle.
I recently attended a young professionals reception in the rainforest, which has a fantastic event space. We had food and cocktails in a tropical setting, and were able to walk through the many “trails” to see the vast collection of flora and fauna within the building. There were countless monkeys, apes, birds, reptiles, fish, and more. The real star, however, seem to be the live plant collection found throughout the rainforest. But the best part of all is the waterfall and simulated rainstorm, complete with fog and lighting. There were zoo volunteers present, allowing us to meet and touch various animals, like a snake named Leo, and an armadillo. It was a fantastic experience!
Make sure you celebrate National Zookeeper’s Week with a visit to an Ohio zoo. Any will do, but definitely consider a drive to Cleveland for this spectactular spot!