2013 Gratitude Project – Travel: Zoos, Aquariums and MoreThis month will be a celebration of travel. I am so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had over my nearly thirty years to explore the world. Click here to read about my 2013 November Gratitude Project – Travel
People love seeing animals. That’s why just about anywhere you go, you will find animal-related attractions such as zoos, aquariums, wildlife parks and preserves. I’ve been to more than two dozen such places with multiple visits to a handful of them like The Dallas Zoo, Fort Worth Zoo and Dallas World Aquarium.
While in China I visited the Hong Kong Zoo, Hefei Wild Animal Park, Louyang Zoo, Hefei Aquarium and Giant Panda Preserve. Two summers ago I shared my adventure to the world famous Monterrey Bay Aquarium.
I consider myself a bit of a zoo connoisseur. My criteria for a good zoo or aquarium exhibit include:
- Making sure the animals are taken care of and happy
- Giving the animals a large, naturalistic environments
- Finding creative ways to take the visitors “inside” these environments
- Telling stories that aren’t just rhetoric
So, today’s entry for this year’s gratitude project is all about the many animal attractions I’ve experienced along the way. I may or may not have images for some, but I’m only going to highlight a few of the places I think are worth a visit and do it right.
In 1993, I was on a tour with The Texas Boys Choir. Of course when you’re traveling with a bunch of school boys you try to find educational yet entertaining places to visit. This is one of those places.
In Eastern Tennessee at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains is a small town that everyone’s heard of because of a 1940’s era song. Once home to industry, Chattanooga became one of the forgotten American cities when the major factories moved causing dilapidation and ruin to the local economy and downtown. However, in the early 1990s a plan was made to revitalize the city and it all started with a world-class aquarium.
Not only did the Tennessee Aquarium revitalize its own city, but it brought about a new era in the design, size and possibilities of aquariums. The aquarium tells the story of the Tennessee River, which is right outside its doors, from the source in the mountains to where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. And, they do a spectacular job telling that story.
After entering you ride an escalator to the very top of the building, which has been dubbed a “cathedral to conservancy” because of its large pointed glass roofs. The escalator lets you off in one of those four greenhouse type spaces with enclosures all around with flora and fauna from the mountains where the river starts its journey.
Your visit slowly spirals around the building heading down while passing through various other habitats eventually reaching the ocean. Along the way you’ll see fish, frogs, turtles, alligators, birds, otters and more.
Since I was there, they have added another couple of buildings including one that just focuses on the ocean and another with a 3D IMAX theater.
Cleland Wildlife Park & Sydney Aquarium
Just outside the city I lived in as an exchange student was a wildlife park with all of the marvelous Australia animals. It was one of the first places my first host family took me and one of the last places I visited in Adelaide before I left.
Just about anywhere in Australia you will find a similar wildlife park or zoo. When in The Gold Coast with the Young Ambassadors in 2008, we visited a very similar place with kangaroos and koalas and wallabies and more. I even got to participate in one of the educational shows by throwing a mouse head in the air for a bird to catch.
Suffice it to say, visiting this kind of attraction is a must for anyone visiting Australia. It may be the only way to see the iconic animals unique to Australia. And, it is the only way to pet and feed kangaroos and hold koalas.
Some of the animals you may not see at these parks like crocodiles, platypuses and sea life like sharks. So, you can go to the fantastic Sydney Aquarium found around Darling Harbour. I went there with my brother just before we left the country (he came to pick me up). Besides the shark tunnels, my favorite part was watching the little platypuses swimming around.
Some people may think zoos are cruel and wrong, but I think they are very important tools in educating people about the world, about conservation and about nature. Unfortunately, many zoos fall short of the care they should be giving to the animals by means of enclosure size and quality.
I am grateful for the many amazing creatures I’ve been able to see because they are at zoos and aquariums. Some of them have inspired me in my travels and encouraged me to learn more about places, animals and cultures. Hopefully, I will have a chance to visit many more in my life.