Yes, D.C.’s Smithsonian Zoo is free and awesome and if you haven’t paid a visit you must go (Pandas!). But if you’ve been there, done that, and you need a unique animal-loving fix, consider a visit to the Metro Richmond Zoo, one of the largest and most unique in our area that’s just a quick two-hour drive south of the city. With more than 2,000 animals spread across 70 acres of land, answering the call of the wild can feel a bit overwhelming. Here are five places to get started.
#1 The Feeding Giraffes
One feature that makes this zoo so popular and fun is the ample opportunity you’ll have to interact with a variety of animals. In the African Plains section, which features addax, impala, zebra, and kudu, along with storks, cranes, ostriches, cheetahs and elephants, you can actually feed the giraffes from a special platform. The zoo houses a herd of nine reticulated giraffe and they are all too happy to nibble some pre-purchased treats from your hand. You can also feed deer, goats, sheep, donkeys and antelope in the children’s farm area.
#2 Monkey Business
Primates are a favorite here and you’ll find rows of lemurs, marmosets, tamarins, New and Old World monkeys, as well as quite a few apes, including siamangs, orangutans, and chimpanzees. You can get up-close-and-personal (but maintain a modicum of safety) through a glass window with Farley and Zoe, two goofy orangutans.
#3 Birds of a Feather…
If birds are your thing, you’ll marvel at the Chilean flamingos and African penguins, and a walk-through aviary of ducks, pheasants, ibises, and spoonbills. The kids will love being able to enter the budgie exhibit and feed the brightly-colored budgerigars, aka parakeets, from feed sticks.
#4 Cats Steal the Show
Favor cute things with whiskers? You’ll enjoy the fact that Metro Richmond Zoo is a Cheetah Breeding Center and has gained worldwide attention for facilitating multiple births of adorable cheetah cubs.
#5 Hitch a Ride
Perhaps the ultimate interactive element at Metro Richmond Zoo is the newly added Treetop Zoofari zip line adventure, where you can zip from tree to tree like Tarzan and get a bird’s eye view of the animals. But if zip lining requires a little too much adrenaline for you, take advantage of the zoo’s Safari Sky Ride, which will give you a similar view, but from the comfort of a moving seat. Or if you prefer to stay closer to the ground, you can take the safari train for a special view of India and Chinese natives, such as blackbuck, mouflon, Himalayan tahr and takin. Impress your little ones by mentioning that the takin is considered a national treasure in China, much like the giant pandas.
Metro Richmond Zoo
8300 Beaver Bridge Rd. (Moseley, Va)
Open: Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Cost: $17.25; kids ages 2-11/$11.25
Have you visited this zoo yet? Tell us about your favorite part in the comments below.