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Spring is here and with that is warmer weather, blooming flowers, and the desire to explore the outdoors! While nature is a beautiful thing and wild places are a magical place to experience, not everyone has access to them. Whether it be because you live in a city, don’t have a lot of time off, or your country/area does not have a lot of native flora you are interested in seeing, there are other options for you! Zoos (and sometimes aquariums) are a wonderful option for people wanting to experience some extra plants in their life. The more updated style of zoos aims for a more natural look and strives to transport the visitor to the natural world of the animals they house. Exhibits with towering trees, lush grass, and even streams are more and more popular in the zoos of the world. Indoor pavilions provide tropical flowers and plants for the many birds and insects they house. Some areas have plants as the main focus!

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There are a number of zoos worldwide that are also partnered with a botanical garden. Sometimes admission to both is included, or at least a discount ticket is offered. Not only does this give more variety to your visit but also the opportunity for experiencing new and exciting plants you never knew existed! I have definitely seen more species of plants in my life from visiting zoos!

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Visiting a zoo with a good horticulture department and staff really heightens your experience and makes for a better zoo visit. Seeing animals in a more natural environment in general is great, but in a natural environment with plants that are native to their wild ranges is even better. Yes, learning new facts about the animals you are seeing is fantastic, but what about learning about the plants! Did you know many zoos house plants that are extinct in the wild? Did you know some zoos have more species of plants than of animals? Maybe that there are over five zoos in the US that are officially recognized as museums due to their plant collections? Or how about that the Toronto Zoo’s collection of plants is said to be worth more than their animal collection?

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So now that you’re craving a little more flora, where should you go? Any zoo that also has ‘Botanical Garden’ in the name is a good bet. Look to see if they house species like butterflies or tropical birds, or if they have any greenhouses or pavilions on site. If you’re still unsure, give them a call!

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While many plants are grown to be used as food and enrichment for the animals, most of the plant collection is used to enrich the exhibits and grounds of the zoo itself. So next time you’re visiting, take time to stop and smell the roses!

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It’s officially the holiday season and that means the time for giving! There’s so much going on this time of year it’s easy to forget to make greener choices which help wildlife and wild spaces. Here are some tips which help zoos, aquariums, and wildlife even after the Christmas season is over:

  • Memberships: Why not give the gift of a zoo membership this year?! Most zoos have individual or family memberships which allow you to go the whole season! There are usually member only events and specials discounts throughout the year as well.
  • Zoo Trip: Give the gift of a trip to a zoo or aquarium near you! An exciting trip for kids, a fun date idea, or a great afternoon with friends. Awesome gift for those who don’t need anything…give them an event to look forward to instead!
  • Adopt-an-animal: Many zoos, aquariums, and organizations have adopt an animal programs. These allow you to symbolically adopt or sponsor either an animal in the zoo or a wild species. Money goes towards feeding, vet care, or enrichment for zoo animals and is a great way to connect with the animals you’re seeing. Organizations such as WWF and CWF have programs where money goes towards initiatives to keep animals safe in the wild.
  • Buy Smart: If the above aren’t what you’re looking for you can still make choices which are better for animals and the environment. When you can buy local, hand made, or repurposed products. Choose products with less packaging and more environmentally friendly components.

What if you’ve already purchased all your gifts? There are still ways you can make better choices!

  • An added gift: Instead of wrapping presents, use a reusable bag or box that the receiver can use afterwards.
  • Recycle: Use old newspapers or comics to wrap presents, most wrapping paper cannot be recycled.
  • Scavenger Hunt: If presents are hidden for a scavenger hunt, no wrapping paper is necessary!

What happens if you’re reading this post AFTER the holidays?

  • Donate: Anyone get new bedding, towels, or clothes for Christmas? Donate the old ones to a zoo or aquarium near you! Many welcome donations for bedding, keeping orphaned newborns comfortable, and enrichment items (the apes especially love them!).
  • Recycle: Electronics are usually hot items for the holidays…what to do with the old? Recycle! Many zoos have cell phone recycling programs to benefit gorillas in the wild.

These are only a few options on how to make your Christmas more environmentally friendly. Even if you implement just one of these tips you will be helping wildlife and the environments they live in.

Happy Holidays!

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Summer is coming to an end but that doesn’t mean it has to be the end of zoo visits!

Field trips are something that should be fun and educational – zoos and aquariums are both! Most have great education departments that work to provide lesson plans, educational tours, and curriculum based activities for students coming for a visit. Whether you tie it to biology, chemistry, general science, art, geography, writing, or any combination of subjects, the zoo is a place for learning. Many zoos are also open year round or until Thanksgiving – you can plan a trip in the fall or spring. Build off of the sights and sounds of the zoo – art projects depicting their favourite animal, creative writing papers researching an endangered species, science projects showing the ecosystems of rainforests or oceans in other parts of the world. Zoos have the ability to inspire children to learn more about the world and the animals within it.

The zoo is a great place to learn about both animals and plants!

The zoo is a great place to learn about both animals and plants!

Perhaps the greatest benefit is the environmental or green practices that are often kickstarted by seeing endangered animals in person. In preparation of your zoo trip organize some classroom activities:

  • A recycling program teaching why plastic and garbage can be bad for the environment and the animals.
  • An old cell phone collection: students can collect from family and friends to be recycled on their zoo visit to help gorillas
  • A wish list collection: many zoos have a ‘wish list’ of towels, food, toys, etc for their animals
  • A scavenger hunt for their trip, things to find and see
  • Sponsor/Adopt an animal: as a classroom adopt an animal from the zoo and visit during your trip or check out WWF for a great Classroom adoption package
  • Make a pledge to carpool, walk, or ride a bike to and from school

What if you have limited resources or a field trip is not feasible? Doing any of the above activities would still be benefiting the children and the zoo animals.

A great example of educational signs found in zoos, aquariums, and sanctuaries.

A great example of educational signs found in zoos, aquariums, and sanctuaries.

So as a teacher if you are planning a field trip for the year consider a zoo, aquarium, or sanctuary near you! Parents and students suggest it to your teacher or school as a trip that you would like to go on…you won’t regret it!

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As you have probably guessed by now, I love zoos. This love started with my love of animals. When I was younger I would copy out animal facts as my made up homework. This eventually turned into a degree in Zoology and a keen interest in wild species throughout the world. Zoos allow me to experience these amazing animals up close, but nothing beats seeing them wild in their natural habitat.

During my final year of school I was able to have the opportunity to go on a research trip to Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. We picked a topic of research and carried it out for two weeks in the middle of no where. I was lucky enough to see the majority of the animals on my must see list: hippos, giraffe, crocodiles, zebra, elephants, and lions. These moments were exhilarating – especially since for the majority of them we were on foot with nothing between us. The sounds of the animals at night would keep us up – the far off (and sometimes not so far off) lions and hyenas, to the warthogs tearing through camp. We learned we had to place our tents in specific spots so we wouldn’t be trampled by hippos when they left the river at night, and that elephants have the best technique of retrieving drinking water. This trip was full of inspiring moments for me and the people I was with…it is so difficult to pick just one. I have always felt inspired to protect the environment and it’s species but I feel that trip showed me how much I took things for granted at home and how much what I did could affect the world.

More than anything my trip inspired me to inspire others to travel. I want others to experience that feeling of making eye contact with a wild lion or seeing a herd of elephants walk by. That feeling you get whether you were a conservationist before or not will change you.

Wild lion in Selous Game Reserve

Wild lion in Selous Game Reserve

Since my trip four years ago, Selous Game Reserve has been placed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites under threat. As I mentioned I was able to see most of the animals on my list. I did not see any rhinos, or cheetahs, or painted dogs. An estimated 66% of Selous’ elephants have been poached between 2009 and 2013. Since I know first hand how beautiful this site is I am more inspired to help save it.

Wild elephants like this one may not be seen in Selous if we do not act.

Wild elephants like this one may not be seen in Selous if we do not act.

For everyone who reads these reviews and features I hope one day you take the opportunity to visit these animals in the wild. Truly get to know the dangers they face due to poaching and climate change. I hope in doing so you will be inspired to start taking steps to change it – big or small.

In the meantime visiting reputable zoos in your area is also playing a part. Through introducing your children to animals and conservation issues at a young age you are encouraging greener practices in the future. By seeing the magnificent animals up close you are nurturing a connection with animals within yourself making the news stories hit closer to home. Even the smallest green changes can have big impacts worldwide.

What is one small thing you can do right now?

Watch Contiki Storytellers video on the sea turtles of Costa Rica.

 

Contiki has partnered with the Sea Turtle Conservancy and agreed to sponsor a turtle to aid in research if this video reaches 250 000 views – we need your help. Show this to friends, family, and neighbours. Not only will this help with Contiki’s goal but you never know who you will inspire to take action.

 

As part of Contiki’s Storyteller Challenge I would further like to challenge some of my fellow bloggers to share their travel stories!

The Bear Necessities

Travel For Wildlife

The Gut Gazette – hopefully that Alaskan cruise has inspired you!

 

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TIP: Facebook

ZooCritic now has a facebook page!

Like us at www.facebook.com/zoocritic to see photos from my trips, see where I’m heading to next, and weigh in with other followers on zoos I’ve been to!

While you’re there check out the facebook pages of the zoos themselves! Some have some great pages with up to date photos, events, and even current weather and line wait times! It’s a great place to get quick info – some are updated even before the zoos website!

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Looking for activities or camps for your children once they’re done school for the year? Look no further than a zoo near you!

Many zoos host summer camps, weekly educational programs, or overnight events. These are a great option for children who love animals or the outdoors. Based around educating youth on the different species as well as ecology, conservation, and the environment, zoo summer camps will keep your child’s mind working while instilling positive ecofriendly outlooks. As a parent you can also feel great knowing that your money is going towards helping zoos care for their animals and/or are funding conservation initiatives worldwide.

Make sure you start looking now – February and March are usually when registration begins for summer programming and spots can fill up fast!

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TIP: Events!

Zoos put on different events throughout the year, with the majority of them free! They are a great way to learn about different aspects of the zoo and add variety to your visits. Many events would not apply to everyone but here’s some examples of what you might see:

Birthdays: Popular or new animal birthdays are sometimes celebrated. Special treats may be brought out to the animal, extra keeper talks, and plenty of activities for kids.

Anniversaries/Milestones: Zoos celebrating milestones of age or number of guests, etc. are common and could include giveaways (memberships, gift shop items, etc.) or other promotions.

Animal Days: There are a number of official and unofficial animal days/months throughout the year which are great opportunities for zoos to raise awareness. Usually they include extra keeper talks or demonstrations geared towards that animal. Keep an eye out for these if you have a favourite animal that you’re wanting to know more about!

Cultural Celebrations: Seeing as zoos usually have animals from a variety of countries, most larger zoos especially will celebrate different cultural holidays and events. This is a great way to educate visitors on not only the animals from around the world but also the countries where they come from.

Promotional days: Days specifically for seniors, students, children, teachers, etc are also common. Usually they would have a designated day throughout the year for different ones and may include free admission or discounts throughout the day for those who fall into that category. These are great trial days if you are considering a membership or are limited financially.

Fundraising events: Many events are geared mainly towards fundraising. These are very important for the zoos to gain funds or for conservation efforts in raising awareness. These events you would usually buy tickets for in advance and would most likely contain silent auctions or something along those lines. These are also usually adult only events or not particularly child friendly.

These are just examples of types of events zoos run, I’m always hearing of new and creative event ideas! I highly suggest regularly checking your favourite zoo’s website or facebook page to keep up to date. Many of these events are full of learning opportunities with little added costs.

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