I thought I knew the Buffalo Zoo well. Growing up, I was an excited Zoo camper and animal lover. I thought it hadn’t been long since my last visit, but in reality, it had probably been more than 10 years. And I can say for a fact that a lot has changed– the Buffalo Zoo is not the same zoo it was a decade ago.
If you’re the typical Buffalonian, you’ve probably been to the Zoo and moved on with your life. You saw the lions, tigers, and bears, and had an underwhelming amount of “oh my’s.”
I’m going to challenge this stigma because today I was proved wrong. The Zoo now is more exciting and a much better experience than what I remember years ago.
When I first walked in to the Zoo, I immediately noticed how spacious everything is now. The “old” zoo seemed to have more animals and exhibits, but ultimately left you feeling slightly depressed about the animals’ cramped environments and sad living conditions.
Quality over quantity always rules in the end; the current Zoo may have less exhibits, but each one is sleeker, more interactive, and much larger than the enclosures of the past.
Gone are the days of the small, far away, and unexciting 5 chamber bear exhibit: “Look…a bear. Alright, what’s next?”
With the 2015 Arctic Edge exhibit, guests get a more interactive and up-close experience with the Zoo’s two polar bears. The glass panels allow for underwater viewing to watch the bears in action, swimming, playing, and roaming around the enclosure. The overall size of the exhibit leaves guests feeling better about these animals’ well-being.
My visit was led by Communications Manager, Christian Dobosiewicz, who gave my friend Claire M. and me the rundown on the ins and outs of the Zoo. The coolest part of my visit was when Christian went up to the glass of Luna the 5-year-old polar bear’s enclosure and she recognized him and quickly swam right over to him.
Getting to be so close to Luna was amazing. By seeing her just through the glass, I could appreciate how impressive she was, her playful personality, the way she just naturally posed for pictures with families, and take in all the unique features of a polar bear that I never would in my life see any other way. (She has the cutest paws and nose, ever.)
Paired with the Arctic Edge exhibit is an information center with interactive games, trivia, facts, and displays informing Zoo guests about polar bears, their natural habitat, and conservation.
The new Zoo is not solely about spectacles anymore. The animals are not solely for the entertainment of the public. The new Zoo is about education, social responsibility, and animal literacy: taking in just how amazing the animals are, understanding why they are important to the world we live in, and learning about our role in protecting their lives by protecting their natural environments.
From my visit to the Zoo, I felt more connected to the animals than I had ever been in the past. Seeing them up close in exhibits that are more representative of their natural habitats made me appreciate the animals more and made my Zoo experience more enjoyable than in the past.
In addition to the polar bear exhibit, Christian also took us into Boomerang Island, the Zoo’s newest featured exhibit. In this exhibit, guests enter an aviary where birds fly free above them. Guests can purchase a seed stick for $2 to feed the diverse collection of Australia’s finest fliers.
As someone who has been pooped on by many birds over the years, I was a little unsure about this experience. However, after about 5 minutes of feeding the vibrant and adorable birds, I was sold. Although I still ducked every single time a bird flew over me, it was a super fun and interactive experience that people of any age could enjoy.
While feeding the birds, Christian gave us some of the inside scoop of what to look forward to at the Zoo and some visiting tips.
Coming up in the future (possibly next May) will be the newly renovated Reptile House. This $3 million project will feature more interactive, informative, and modern displays for our scaly friends. Because the old reptile house is a historical landmark building, the new reptile house will still be in the same building, just with a new facelift.
Also on the Zoo’s docket for upcoming years are renovated gorilla and elephant exhibits.
I highly recommend that if you can’t remember the exact year of the last time you went to the Zoo, or if you haven’t been in at least 10 years, it’s time to take a trip to Parkside Ave and check it out.
For the fullest Zoo experience, I also suggest going on a docent guided tour. Being able to get insight, fun facts, and questions answered by Zoo-pros will enhance your experience dramatically and help you appreciate the animals to the fullest extent. Tours can be scheduled by calling in advance.
Christian also highlighted that many people view the Zoo as a summer event, when in reality, the Zoo’s off-season often brings out more activity in different animals. Visiting on a cool fall day can be more enjoyable (and less sticky) for both you and the animals. He stressed just how adorable it is to see the polar bears roll around in the snow during winter and sometimes late spring depending on Buffalo weather.
The Zoo is a great way to spend the day, learn some interesting facts, appreciate animal pals, and get your steps in– for families, groups of friends, dates, or even a solo adventure.
Check out the Zoo’s event calendar, pick a date, and go see the animals– it’s not the same zoo it once was, I promise!
The next big Zoo event coming up is Party for The Planet on Saturday, June 23 – “More than 130 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums across North America are throwing a Party for the Planet (a month-long celebration of the earth), making it the largest combined Earth Day, Endangered Species Day, and World Oceans Day celebration!”
Visit The Buffalo Zoo online.