A Day at the Greenest Zoo in America

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In elementary school, you waited every year for the day when you could throw off the shackles of books, desks and papers, and climb aboard the bus that would take you to that magical place full of exotic animals and smelling of popcorn: the Zoo.

Permission slips were signed and brown bag lunches were carefully packed. You wiggled in excitement as the bus pulled out of the parking lot and took to the open road towards that kid-friendly place were elephants, gorillas, lions and rhinos roamed in the very heart of the city.

Even though you are in college now, and should probably be reading that textbook you paid an arm and a leg for, or writing that essay for that one class you couldn’t care less about, you realize we all deserve a Zoo day every once in a while.

So, after a call to some friends and quick web search for directions to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, you and your pals are off, wiggling in the same excitement as you had in your grade school days.

You pull into the Zoo and park in the shade in the main parking lot. But that’s not just any shade, those are solar panels that are helping power the Zoo. As you walk across the pavement towards the entrance, under your feet-and unbeknownst to you- are two large water retention tanks that are storing rainwater from the parking lot.

Once in the Zoo, you find yourselves in Vine Street Village, and you decide to see the giraffes first. What you may not know is that Vine Street Village is LEED Platinum Certified, made with sustainable building materials, solar panels, solar water heating systems and pervious pavement, which reduces potentially harmful runoff by capturing storm water and allowing it to seep into the ground.

As you and your friends walk down the path towards the giraffes, you pass the Education Center and the P&G Discovery Forest.

Why not stop in?

Once inside, you hear the squawk of a blue and gold macaw and see the aptly named “Slow Moe,” a two-toed sloth hanging from her tree. What you don’t see is that the building is made with recycled steel and local limestone, with solar panels on the roof to give the building a LEEDs Silver rating.

After navigating your way to the giraffe deck, which, like all the decks and benches in the Zoo, is made of recycled plastic, you find to your delight that you can actually feed one of these graceful, long-necked creatures.

That long blue tongue slurps a cracker out of your hand, and you head down the hill to the other African Exhibits. Then, after watching the world’s fastest land animal reach speeds of up to 70mph in the Cat Show, and the painted dogs frolic about in their exhibit, you feel a hungry knot in your in stomach and, since mom no longer packs you a brown bag lunch, you decide to head to the Base Camp Café.

Everything looks so tasty and, after choosing your lunch, you sit down with your friends as a peacock struts past, flashing those amazing tail feathers. An ostrich strolls by in its exhibit several yards away from your table on the veranda. The food is delicious and the restaurant that prepared it is rated the Greenest Restaurant in America by the Green Restaurant Association. Many of the vegetables that found their way onto your plate were actually grown on site!

After lunch you decide to take a relaxing ride on the train. Blended biodiesel, which is cleaner burning than petroleum, powers the engine that pulls you around the tracks as you watch wolves, a flock of flamingos, zebras and a whole mess of ducks go by.

Upon disembarking the train, you walk down the hill and marvel at the black, spectacled, and polar bears, and walk around Jungle Trails to see the bonobos, orangutans and various lemurs. You watch the Bird Show, and laugh out loud at the jokes and puns, as seagulls, falcons, eagles, doves, and macaws fly over the audience.

The Petting Zoo is right around the corner and you just have to brush a goat, and watch the penguins. You are in awe of the Indian and Sumatran rhinos, the Sumatran rhino being the only one of its kind in North America!

A quick trip to the Reptile House finds you in the oldest Zoo building in the United States, and you can’t leave without paying your respects to Martha, the last passenger pigeon, especially on the 100th anniversary of her death.

It is getting late, and you realize you have put off school long enough, but just one more exhibit. Your friend’s favorite animal is the gorillas, and the gorillas just recently welcomed the latest member of the group only a few weeks ago. You just have to see little baby Mondika, so off to the gorilla exhibit it is.

Once there, you learn about the threat to the gorilla’s habitat from mining coltan, a mineral used in the making of cell phones. You make a mental note to drop off your old cell phone at the collection box the next time you are at the Zoo, which you hope will be sometime in the very near future, because even college students deserve a Zoo day

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