On road trips, no matter how long the drive, we try to break up the trip by stopping somewhere interesting for a couple of hours. Recently, on our way home from South Carolina, we stopped at Zootastic Park near Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
We love small zoos. You can get up close to the animals, the exhibits are closer together and you actually get to meet and talk to the zoo staff who are usually friendly and knowledgeable.
As soon as we arrived at Zootastic Park, we knew we had found a gem. As I was walking to the bathroom, one of the zoo staff passed me with a baby wolf in his arms. Next door, there was a birthday party in full swing with lemurs leaping around the room.
Parrots and peacocks greeted you at the entrance, and you could buy carrots and grains to feed the animals. Dave and I have been up close to giraffes in Africa, but we have never fed one before.
In the big cats area, I made a new enemy. Their lynx did not like me…one bit. Every time I talked to him he would growl and look at me menacingly with his luminous yellow eyes. It was very eerie. I’ve never seen an animal react like that at a zoo before, probably because you don’t get the opportunity to get so close to them.
The owner was an interesting guy. He had been in the animal trade for more than 30 years, worked on Wild Kingdom (google it kids), lived in South Africa, and was now making a go of this little zoo in North Carolina.
They even had an old fashioned carousel for the little ones. The owner told us he traded it for a camel, straight up.
Here are some of our favourite “little” zoos to visit this summer:
- Jungle Cat World, in Orono, east of Toronto
- The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg (50% admission for Moms on Mother’s Day!)
- Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington—free 364 days of the year
- Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, 45 minutes outside of Halifax where you can say hi to Shubenacadie Sam, their resident groundhog. We’ve visited Wiarton Willie in Wiarton too–the only North American groundhog we haven’t paid a visit to yet is Punxsutawney Phil.
I haven’t been there, but my friend Mary Beth tells me the zoo in Syracuse is good too. I was sad to find out one of our favourites, Reptile World in Drumheller, Alberta closed. The owner there loved snakes but was terrified of cattle, which we found hilarious considering he lived in Alberta.
Many zoos offer summer camp programs for kids—what an awesome summer experience.
This week’s #HappyAct is to have a zootastic experience with the whole family. Go ape for the apes, wild for the big cats and batty for the bats.