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Urban Safari: Franklin Park Zoo

The  Franklin Park Zoo is just a few miles from the RainyDayMagazine office, yet in all the years we have been in Boston we have never been there. So over the Holiday break, we dropped by for a visit (basically because somebody in the office was a little disappointed—yet again–that she didn’t get a pony for Chrismas and insisted on an animal interaction nonetheless). We were not sure what to expect, but what we saw amazed us. Right in the middle of Boston were numerous exotic animal species from around the world! We were so impressed that we decided to lead off the new year with an “urban safari” to this wonderful city zoo.

The Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham (Massachusetts) make up the non-profit corporation, Zoo New England. If you want to avoid the crowds and spend some quality time with the animals, get there early (and not during school vacation). We arrived right when the zoo opened and we pretty much had all of the exhibits to ourselves (the African savannah, the Australian outback, tropical rain forest, and the others).

Some of the animals are free to roam about their large open enclosures while others had more defined perimeters. The entire complex is quite sizable. It took us about three hours to wander through all of the exhibits. It would have taken even longer but a number of the more tropical animals (giraffes, butterflies, some birds, etc…) were not on exhibit due to the season.

All of the exhibits were very well presented. The outdoor enclosure for the lions was defined by glassed walls and a huge moat. It gave a great view of the animals from many different angles. There were even viewing areas designed  specifically for children.

We were surprised to see the lion out and about. OK, most of the time he was just napping on a rock (he is “just” a cat, afterall), but it was early in the day. Occassionally he would wake up, roar, shift position, lay back down and continue napping. Still…very impressive to both see and hear.

Many of the other exhibits were indoors. After wandering around outside for an hour, heading inside to warm up was a welcomed change 🙂 The Rain Forest exhibits (birds, insects, etc…) were housed a large domed building. The largest of the section was the gorilla exhibit.

Gorillas are threatened from a lot of different directions, mostly as lost of habitat from logging, mining, and farming. They are also hunted and killed for their meat. Gorilla meat is eaten by hunters and loggers and is also sold in city markets and restaurants. Civil wars and fighting in the countries where gorillas live make it difficult to protect them. You can learn more about the Franklin Zoo gorillas here.

Like the gorilla exhibit, all of the other exhibits let visitors get up-close and personal. We saw beautiful ocelots, large vultures, tiny falcons, and spiders the size of our hands (but, um, not everyone in our party, uh, enjoyed that last exhibit).

The Tiger’s Tale enclosure was next to the Lion exhibit. During our first visit to the tiger enclosure both animals were way in the back and not very visible. We circled back for a second look after exiting the Tropical Rain Forest building. We were glad we did. Both Anala and Luther (white) were up and about this time around.

We’re not sure if it was because it was later in the day or if so many humans produced a detectable scent, but the tiger decided to come for a closer look. With a yawn and a stretch, it hopped down silently and came right up to the fence. With the tiger no more than four feet away, we could easily feel the wildness behind the gaze and are quite happy that there were a few layers of protection between us and the tiger.

We were amazed to learn that there are more tigers in private facilities (10,000-15,000) than there are in the wild (5,000). What is even more amazing is that there are actually few restrictions regarding owning them as pets. While tigers may be adorable when they are young, few owners have the means to properly provide for a 500-pound predator. Best to leave the care and feeding of these beautiful animals to the professionals.

We have highlighted just a few of the exhibits in this quick look (like the giant anteater), but here is plenty more to see and do at this zoo. The Franklin Park Zoo is a great place to go any time of the year. We were so taken with our visit that we purchased a group membership for 2012. We think it will be our new favorite destination whenever we feel the urge to go for a walk.

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