- Virginia Johnson
May is the perfect time to visit a zoo. It's not too hot or crowded, and the animals are at their springtime best. If your kids are begging for pandas, then the National Zoo in Washington is the place to go, but there are some places about an hour's drive from our area where kids can get a different kind of beastly experience.
The Metro Richmond Zoo has over 450 animals in a naturalistic setting, which is to say many more grassy paddocks than concrete enclosures. Children are encouraged to feed many of the animals -- the giraffes are especially friendly and can be petted. Not so friendly is the Bengal Tiger family whose regal splendor is best viewed through a telescope. Some of the bigger birds such as peacocks and ducks wander the grounds freely and are bound to delight youngsters. Little ones may also enjoy the petting zoo and animal nursery. There are also picnicking facilities available at this low-key zoo, located in the Chesterfield County countryside.
Maymont's Children's Farm and Wildlife Exhibit is also located in the Richmond area. This zoo places more emphasis on North American species and has a strong educational mission. Look here for hawks, elk, foxes and black bear. They have just opened a wonderful aquarium exhibit featuring playful river otters, turtles, fish, and a beautiful 20-foot waterfall. Their Children's Farm has all the barnyard favorites: cows, rabbits, ducks, and sheep. Maymont is surrounded by beautiful gardens and easily accessed from I-95 in the City of Richmond. There are many other museums within only a few miles, so plan to make a day of it.
Children (and adults!) love to learn about animals whether up close and personal or in the pages of books. Before your adventure, check out these great books, software and videos to learn more about the animals and the zoos that keep them.
Signing Time! Volume 9: The Zoo Train
Singing and signing fun at the zoo. Learn the signs for your favorite zoo animals and ocean creatures. Signs include lion, tiger, zebra, giraffe, monkey, rhinoceros, dolphin, seal, penguin, crab, whale, and more!.
Zoo Crew: All the People Who Make a Zoo Work.
Part of the What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? series. Meet the veterinarians, nutritionists, zookeepers and exhibit builders who keep the zoo animals healthy and the visitors happy.
New Zoo Reviews
Animals and the New Zoos by Patricia Curtis.
The newer zoos in America try to give their animals a more naturalistic habitat and emphasize conservation rather than exhibition.
Keepers of the Kingdom: The New American Zoo by Michael Nichols.
Beautiful photographs of the more spacious zoos and essays from well-regarded zookeepers on breeding endangered species and new ways to educate the public. Extensive bibliography.
The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos: Past, Present and Future by Vicki Croke.
Examines how attitudes towards the mission of zoos has changed in the past and continues to evolve. Has a special emphasis on how the behaviors of species are preserved. A fascinating book by an acclaimed wildlife journalist.
The Zoo Book: A Guide to America's Best by Allen W. Nyhuis.
Useful for planning trips, this guide describes in detail what can be seen at 53 of the larger zoos throughout the United States, paying particular attention to highlights for children. Smaller zoos and aquariums are also briefly mentioned.
Zoo Fun for Little Ones
Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Rod Campbell.
Which animal would you choose at the zoo? A story time favorite.
Down by the Station by Will Hillenbrand.
In this version of a familiar song, baby animals ride to the children's zoo on the zoo train.
Going to the Zoo by Tom Paxton.
It's the well-loved children's song in picture book format! Go to the zoo, zoo, zoo again and again with this silly favorite.
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman.
At closing time, a lonely gorilla plucks the keys from the zookeeper's pocket. The ape and his many animal friends quietly follow the tired man home to snuggle up for a good night's sleep. A perfect bedtime read.
What Do You Do at a Petting Zoo? by Hana Machotka.
Is it a goat, a hen, a donkey, pig, duck, sheep or llama? Eye-catching photos show only part of the animals. Children guess the rest.
When We Went to the Zoo by Jan Ormerod.
Sometimes the most fascinating animals aren't in the zoo at all! A family enjoys their time at the zoo but discovers that the wonders of nature are truly everywhere.
Fun for Older Kids
The Kids' Wildlife Book by Werner Shedd.
Activities encourage children to learn about wildlife behavior. The projects are accompanied by anecdotes and stories. Part of the Kids Can! Series.
Egg Carton Zoo by Rudi Haas.
Crafty kids can make zoo animals out of simple egg cartons.
Draw 50 Endangered Animals by Lee J. Ames.
Shows step by step the way to draw pandas, bald eagles, gorillas, humpback whales and more! The library owns more than two dozen drawing books by Ames on everything from dinosaurs to superheroes.