Monday, November 25, 2013

Holiday Gift Ideas for Zoo Fans 2013

It’s that time of year again! The holiday gift giving season is upon us so it’s time to head to the store to purchase something unique for your fellow zoo enthusiast or animal lover. I’ve created a list of gift ideas besides the typical season passes to your local zoo or aquarium. Many of these items I personally use myself each and every day and others are items I have on MY holiday wish list.

Zoo Toys

LEGO Duplo - My First Zoo:
With four cute zoo animals, including a baby elephant, tiger, polar bear and giraffe, there’s always something for the friendly zoo keeper to do, like feeding the animals.

Playmobil 4850 Big City Zoo:
A large scale Zoo. Entrance area with ticket counter and gift shop. Variable blockable enclosures with African animals and lots of accessories.

Zoo Movies

We Bought a Zoo: A heartwarming story about a man who moves his family into a zoo and embarks on a fresh beginning to restore the dilapidated zoo to its former glory, while uniting his family.

Zoo Games

World of Zoo:
Available for Ninendo Wii, DS, and PC, World of Zoo is the only life sim game that pushes you past the fences and into a word of your own zoo. Create and customize your zoo experience and develop hands on relationships to earn the trust and love of your animals.

Zoo Tycoon 2: Ultimate Collection:
In the same vein as the ultra successful RollerCoaster Tycoon series, the goal in Zoo Tycoon is to create a thriving zoo by building exhibits to accommodate animals and keeping the guests happy.

Zoo Books

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives:
Zoo Story takes readers deep into the inner workings of a place some describe as a sanctuary and others condemn as a prison.

How to Draw Zoo Animals Step by Step:
Learn how to draw over 200 animals in 6 easy steps.

Drawing Animals in Pencil - This huge 400+ page ebook will teach you how to draw over 900 different animals. The lessons are easy to follow and will have you drawing better before you know it. Read a more detailed review here.

Other Tech, Gadgets, and Toys

Google ChromeCast HDMI Streaming Media Player. Stream my Zoo YouTube videos right to your TV using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop!

R/C Helicopter. This Brand New 3 Channel mini rc helicopter is the world's newest, most durable and stable helicopter. The item comes with the latest gyro system for precision control. The metal frame has proven to withstand dozens of crashes.

HDMI Pocket Projector. Projects up to 1080p HD images up to 60" diagonal. Rechargeable and portable. Connects via HDMI to most smartphones, tablets, computers, video players, cameras and more.

Breaking Bad: Complete Series. All seasons plus tons of amazing extras for the greatest show on television. The episode titled "Ozymandias" is my favorite episode of any TV show I've ever seen.

Amazon Prime

I highly recommend joining Amazon Prime. If you order something off of Amazon on average once per month then it pays for itself, or if you're ordering a bunch of gifts this holiday season it probably will too. The FREE two day shipping is awesome and everything I've ordered really has come in two days or less. You can also stream movies, TV shows, and get a Kindle book every month. Great alternative for Netflix or Hulu and well worth the investment in my opinion. Cheers!

What gifts are you getting your fellow animal lovers for the holidays? Please let me know by commenting below!



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ideal Buildout: Columbus Zoo Safari Africa Jeep Adventure

While I reserve final judgement until the attraction is actually open, from what I’ve seen on paper the plan for Safari Africa is drastically different (read: smaller) than the initial rumors posted years ago. Initial plans called for a new boat and train rides.Now it will be interesting to see if it even opens with the zip line and camels rides. While we're eagerly awaiting what the expansion will actually look like, I thought it would be fun play planner/designer of the Columbus Zoo. My ideal plan for Safari Africa leans more toward the theme park/ride experience and makes the experience more like an actual safari.

Columbus Zoo is one of the best organized zoos. When the current Safari Africa area opens it will place the entrance to the new region smack dab in the middle of North America. While logistical or logical, it makes no sense in terms of organization for regions. In my ideal buildout, the Safari Africa experience begins where the African lions are now on display, tucked right by the exit of Asia Quest. In fact, in this plan the zoo will completely redo the African lion exhibit and integrate it with the new queue line entrance for the jeep adventure.

My ideal buildout has the same species of animals as the current plan, the difference is how I plan to get guests there. I’ve decided to combine the best features of Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with the Wilds here in Ohio. Like Kilimanjaro, the Jeep Adventure is the only way to access the main enclosures, however, there is a station in the middle of the region where you can get out, take your time and explore at your own pace just like the tours at the Wilds.

Please note, I'm not sure how much land the zoo actually owns and what they could build on so my pictures are just guesses. Maybe one reason they chose not to do something like this is too similar to the Wilds. I’m sure the Safari Africa area under construction will be a great addition to the zoo but it’s always fun to daydream and play imagineer and think about what might have been. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Columbus Zoo Zebras Have Arrived!

Zebras have arrived at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in preparation for their new home in Safari Africa. The Columbus Zoo used to have zebras and giraffees before they were removed to make way for the Asia Quest area. Both species will be making their return to the zoo when Safari Africa opens in summer 2014. For now the four baby zebras are stayin in a back of house area and cannot be seen from the public pathways.

Stay tuned to Zoo Tails for more updates on the Columbus Zoo and the progress of Safari Africa!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Safari Africa Columbus Zoo Update 7-28-13

New Safari Africa building behind the bear.
Safari Africa will be the Columbus Zoo’s most ambitious and expansive region to date and will evoke the real world experience of an African safari. 43 acres will be transformed into a thrilling savanna where zebras and giraffes will roam and animal expert Jack Hanna will be your “virtual” tour guide. The area will feature a village plaza where African culture comes to life through crafts, performances, and food. Up-close animal encounters the whole family can enjoy will include giraffe feeding, cheetah runs, and camel rides.

The Columbus Zoo recently released a few videos on YouTube with some additional information about Safari Africa. At the beginning of July the very first animals who will be roaming the savannah arrived at the zoo. The mixed species habitat will include ten Thompson gazelles, including these two little ones:

Here's an older video from May but it shows some behind the scenes construction on the new African lion exhibit (anyone have any idea what is going to go in the old lion enclosure? The clouded leopards maybe?):

And finally we get a glimpse of the savannah itself and an interactive termite mound that will reside there.

I visited the zoo today and noticed several new buildings in Safari Africa are now visible from a couple of different vantage points. The biggest building can be seen to your left before entering the Polar Frontier region and appears to be the new dining facility.
New Safari Africa building, probably for dining.

The grand opening of Safari Africa at the Columbus Zoo is in summer 2014 - less than a year away!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Zoo Design: PGAV Destinations Interview

The Season Pass Podcast recently posted a great interview with PGAV Destinations - a themed entertainment design firm that has worked on numerous theme park, zoos, aquarium, and science center projects. They're currently working on Safari Africa at the Columbus Zoo. The main focus of the interview is their relationship with the Busch (now SeaWorld Entertainment) parks. Some of the topics they touched on in their hour long discussion:

pgav destinations safari africa
  • How they helped rebrand Six Flags as Discovery Kingdom
  • Georgia Aquarium exhibits use projections
  • The perfect picture location on the Manta coaster at Sea World Orlando
  • Mixing guests, rides, and animals
  • The challenges of building within Sea World San Diego ‘s40 foot height limit
  • Designing ”mail box moments” (or Facebook moments)
  • An awesome photo opportunity at the lion exhibit in Busch Gardens Tampa
  • Glacier Run at Louisville Zoo
Click here to check it out now. If you have any interest in zoo design you should definitely give this a listen!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Manta Ray at the Atlantis Resort

While on a recent cruise on the Disney Dream we had the opportunity to explore the incredible Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The Dig is a series of aquariums located beneath the main lobby and spread throughout the resort. Unlike other aquarium attractions, there is no central building with a roof. Most of the fish tanks are open air and sit directly under the brilliant Bahamian sun. The Dig is also highly themed to the ruins of the Lost City of Atlantis. Notable species found here include angel fish, eels, sea turtles, jellyfish, and hammerhead sharks.


One of the larger exhibits, dubbed “The Predator Lagoon,” features a 100 foot long clear acrylic underwater tunnel passing through a tank of sawfishes, sharks, stingrays, and barracudas. It’s very similar to the one found at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. The entrance is in the middle of this giant sea star themed building that also houses a restaurant.

Of course, the marquee animal currently on display is the magnificent Manta Ray. Atlantis is one of only four aquariums in the world to house manta rays. Our tour guide said this ray is just a baby which was quite surprising to hear because its wingspan was over ten feet across! The pictures do not do it justice - this guy was huge! Mantas use the fins on the side of their heads to help channel food into their mouths.

Unfortunately, we did not get to see the dolphin and sea lion area, which is on the opposite side of the resort. The dolphins are also kept in an open air exhibit and for an exuberant fee you can swim and interact with them. Our tour was only $30 a person and included transportation from the port to the resort and back. I was under the impression the resort is broken up into different areas requiring different tickets to get into but we were pretty much free to walk around wherever we liked, including the breathtaking beach with its amazing, crystal clear water.


Check out my video montage of the Atlantis resort and the manta ray below!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Monterey Bay Aquarium added to CityPass

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been added to San Francisco's CITYPass. Get unlimited rides on the cable car and admission on four different attractions, including Monterey Bay Aquarium! Now it's easier than ever to visit one of the world's best aquariums, and my personal favorite. To celebrate, they've put together some interesting facts about the aquarium into an info-graph, pictured below.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Read more about CITYPass here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Review

gatlinburg aquariumWhile visiting Dollywood, Gatlinburg. and the Smoky Mountains this past weekend my wife and I decided to do something we have never done: check out Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. This was the third year in a row we have visited Gatlinburg and, although we’d taken pictures outside of it every trip, we had never actually went inside the aquarium. Well, the weather wasn’t that great and it was colder than usual out so we figured it was the perfect time to see what the aquarium had to offer (and it promised to be nice and warm inside)!

There is a sign outside advertising it as “America’s #1 Aquarium.” I’ve never been there but I’ve always assume the Georgia Aquarium to be the best, followed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which we did visit last July and it was awesome). I wouldn’t rate Ripleys the number one aquarium but it was slightly better than I expected it to be and is a good option if you’re looking for an hour or two of entertainment and discovery.

The aquarium features many exhibits divided up into themed regions but the main attraction is the Shark Lagoon. Guests stand on a motorized walkway that carries them through a semi-circular tube in a U-shaped layout through a giant tank filled with nurse sharks and sawfish. The cool thing about it too is that not only do you get a great 180 degree underwater, you can also go above the tank and appear straight down into it from a variety of angles enabling you to watch the sharks fins pierce the water ala jaws. There is also a creepy/mysterious soundtrack playing in the background (all the background music is done really well here).

While the Shark Lagoon is an outstanding exhibit, the Aquarium of the Smokies as a whole lacks that one unique, marquee animal that they can hang their hat on. For example, Monterey Bay has sea otters and the Georgia Aquarium has whale sharks. Beyond the Shark Lagoon, there are really no imaginative tank designs (unlike Monterey Bay, which had several stunning designs). As an adult I did find enjoyment in visiting the Gatlinburg aquarium but it is really geared more towards kids. In the end, the aquarium is slightly overpriced (AAA members get a $1 off discount per ticket) but is a much better value than most of the other overpriced tourist traps in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Columbus Zoo Update March 2013

We took a trip to the Columbus Zoo on Saturday, March 9th to see what was going on and if anything was new. In the latest edition of the Beastly Banner, the zoo president and CEO Tom Stalf said "We are moving to Phase II of the Safari Africa construction project. I was impressed with the 60 large trees that were planted throughout the area. This process happened in just a few days and it really transformed the area. The completion of the area will be in the summer of 2014. Giraffes, zebras, and lions will be some of the featured animals." At this point none of the Safari Africa construction can be seen from inside the zoo, other than mounds of dirt, markers, and construction equipment. The construction is going on right behind the grizzly bear enclosure.

Tom also talked about the zoo's 2013 plans in the magazine: "In honor of Jack, we are excited to provide a dinosaur experience. Enjoy walking through the Jurassic era and come face-to-face with these amazing creatures. This exhibit will also include our boat ride tour as you travel by many dinosaurs, ranging from the size of your hand to our T-rex that is larger than a city bus!" The dinosaurs are going to be found in the Islands of Southeast Asia region of the zoo. While visiting the zoo I spotted numerous red and yellow flags in the ground which I suspect are the future locations of the dinosaurs and I snapped a few pictures (seen below).

A couple other of my own notes and observations:

  • All three polar bears were out in the yard and playing, the first time I have seen all three at once.
  • It looks like a new cage was added to the bat exhibit in Asia Quest to separate some of the bat species.
  • A new Colobus monkey was born at the zoo recently but, of course, is not on public display yet.
Enjoy our pictures from the Columbus Zoo!

columbus zoo polar bears
grizzly bear columbus zoo
silvery lutung lounging around
columbus zoo roadhouse
gorilla at the columbus zoo

Columbus Zoo possible early Dinosaur exhibit construction (I believe the placement of the flags is where the animatronic dinos will be):

 columbus zoo dinosaur
dinosaurs at the columbus zoo
columbus zoo dinosaur location
columbus zoo dinosaur cost