The new Circle of Wildlife Carousel, awaiting the next group of riders.
Yesterday I paid a visit to the new Circle of Wildlife Carousel and the
nearby Nature Discovery Ridge play area at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo this morning. This got me to
thinking about the different types of children’s activities and rides that have
delighted Cleveland area kids for many years.
The 1980s version of a zoo carousel.
I was once one of
those kids and have wonderful memories of the zoo in the early 60s. There was,
of course, the magical “zoo key” that allowed for interactive learning long
before smart phones were invented. Monkey Island was always a favorite place for me and many others, including adults. I
also remember the zoo train, a rather tame ride that still seemed
like an adventure to a five year old.
All dressed up and ready to ride the train, circa 1960.
Feeding the sea lions
was a mixed pleasure, as I was a squeamish little girl and found it a challenge
to pick up the (to my mind) slimy fish. But the allure of the experience outweighed that squeamishness and I
bravely stepped up to the platform to do my part. It was a little easier to
feed a baby lamb with a bottle at the original children’s farm. The farm
animals that lived at the old red barn were as exotic as the lions and elephants
to kids who lived in the city and suburbs.
Feeding the sea lions in 1959 and a lamb at the old petting zoo, circa 1950.
Due to increased knowledge and respect for wildlife modern
zoos no longer allow some of the up-close and personal activities that early
zoos provided. For instance, we no
longer offer elephant rides, as was common in the 1940s. Nor will you have a chance to hold a baby
chimpanzee or other wild animal. We pay more attention to the safety of both
the animals and the visitors. Modern exhibits, however, are designed to allow
better viewing of the animals in more appropriate habitats than the old cage
like structures that were built at the early zoo, some of which still existed
in the zoo of my childhood. And there
are still plenty of ways to interact safely, like helping to feed our lovely
giraffes (seriously, how can anyone not love a giraffe?)
No caption needed, this face says it all.
Frieda, the elephant, was available for rides as well as "handshakes" in the 1940s.
The original children’s farm was opened in 1959. It stood
in the area where the Australian Outback is today.
There had been earlier petting zoos as well, but the farm represented
the first time an area was built to recreate a real, if rather idealized,
environment. It could be considered the
forerunner of our modern exhibits that help the children (and adults!) to
envision zoo animals in native habitats.
The "old red barn" as it looked in 1980 and pony rides at the old petting zoo in the 1940s.
In doing the research for this article I was surprised to
learn that several American zoological gardens (to give them their appropriate
names) installed monkey island exhibits, going back to the 1900s. And, the zoo key that I was so fond of was
found at zoos and other outdoor children’s venues all around the country in the
late 1950s and beyond. I guess I thought my zoo key was unique! Here's a challenge: take a selfie with any old zoo keys that you have and send them to us. We'll create a collage for a future post.
I have to admit that many of the activities designed to
entertain the children at the zoo have an appeal for the adults as well. Because while taking care of our earth and
all of its amazing diverse wildlife is serious business, we can still have some
fun while learning how to accomplish that goal.
So I will be paying another visit to the Circle of Wildlife Carousel so that
I can join the young and young at heart on the ride myself. I just have to decide on whether to ride the
honey-bee or the polar bear, or maybe the iceberg with the penguins, or... come to think of it; I may ride a couple of times so I don’t have to
choose just one!