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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

Toledo Zoo offers its guests a view of the world

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE SCIENCE WRITER
Bajik, an orangutan, eyeballs a muffin he received as the Toledo Zoo observed his second birthday recently. Admission to visit Bajik and all the other animals at the zoo is $10 for adults and $7 for children. 
Bajik, an orangutan, eyeballs a muffin he received as the Toledo Zoo observed his second birthday recently. Admission to visit Bajik and all the other animals at the zoo is $10 for adults and $7 for children.
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Which continent shall we travel to today?

How about all of them.

A visit to the Toledo Zoo can have you continent hopping with the jet set. OK, you won t have quite the same level of glamour as the Riviera crowd, but really, did you want to hang out with those snobs?

Even with the zoo s $1 admission increase, to $10 for adults and $7 for children, this is still easier on the wallet than transatlantic airfare.

One place that s easy to go at the Toledo Zoo is Africa! While there s a whole section of the zoo with that continent s name, zoo visitors will find themselves stumbling upon the continent s creatures hither and yon.

In other words, the zoo is a good place to learn about animals, but not so hot a place to learn about geography. For instance, if you come in main gate off the Anthony Wayne Trail, you ll have to travel through the Arctic Circle to hit Africa!

For $2, you can ride the train through the savanna, and, with the help of safari guide Mike McCartney, you will be yelling things in Swahili before you even leave the station.

Keep an eye peeled for Wayne Carpenter. No, he s not in the exhibit. This bear-sized man is interim large mammal curator, and he can tell you about the old days in the zoo, when it was all part of a day s work to get bit or gored in the care of animals.

Today, keepers train their animals, and the cowboy stuff that Mr. Carpenter remembers from his early days at the zoo 35 years ago is a thing of the past. Today, he s more likely to call a giraffe over to scratch her chin than he is to lasso up a zebra.

Where training doesn t work, drugs help. It s not unheard of to pharmacologically calm an animal at one time or another. The zebras you see from your seat on the train, for instance, were given an anti-psychotic drug for a couple days to keep those jumpy animals from freaking out. Wildebeests got doses of Haldol for months when they were settling into the new Africa! exhibit. There is even a gorilla that has been on Prozac for a couple years.

Before you cross the bridge to the other side of the zoo, stop in the Arctic Circle and visit the polar bears.

The polar bears live in an exhibit specially designed to help these animals avoid the sad, repetitive behavior they often exhibit in zoos ritualistic pacing or swimming that continues uninterrupted for hours. Because these animals are very active in the wild, captivity can be tough on them. The zoo continues studying the success of this exhibit and looking for new ways to keep the animals occupied.

In fact, keeping animals from boredom and self-destruction is a growing field in the world of zoos. Where once it was considered unnatural to give chimpanzees toys as though living in a concrete cage was natural today, zoo keepers are always looking for fun stuff for the chimps to play with. In fact, there is even a small department at the zoo devoted to animal behavior.

For gorillas, the fun might be working raisins out of logs. For elephants, there might be a bit of painting to do. Cheetahs regularly give chase to a bit of alpaca fur that races around their enclosure on a pulley system.

OK, so you ve been to Africa! and the North Pole. Would you like to visit the South Pole? Then it s time to cross the Anthony Wayne Trail and visit the penguins. After penguins, you re not too far from the Aviary. You have to go in there. You can hit about every continent in just this one stop.

By the way, when you leave the bird house, you re near your best opportunity to visit Asian animals. Check out the Amur tiger and the sloth bear.

Walk over to the Diversity of Life exhibit. Before you go in, say hi to the Australian wallabies, then open the door and be whisked away to South America see, there s that geography thing again. Here the golden headed lion tamarin and Weid s marmoset play, both from the rapidly disappearing forests of Brazil.

The Aquarium is another place where you can see the entire world in a single building. In fact, the Toledo Zoo aquarium boasts the only display of Mediterranean fish in North America. While you re in the aquarium building, walk over to the Rainforest side. Can you see another South American animal? There s a sloth in there somewhere? Can you find it?

The reptile house gives you yet another chance to see the world in a single building, and there is more of the herpetology collection to see in the Diversity of Life building.

Here lives one of the only two populations of Kihansi spray toads in the world. Toledo herpetology keepers learned how to induce these thumb-size fellows to breed in captivity just as toads were going extinct in the wild. The hope is populations maintained in Toledo and the Bronx Zoo will someday be used to restore these animals to their home in Tanzania.

In fact, take a close look at all the amphibians at the Toledo Zoo. It may be your last chance to see some of them. These animals are in serious danger all over the planet, with species going extinct every day, and thousands expected to disappear in our lifetime.

So, how s that for a quick global tour? It didn t cost too much. The bathrooms were clean. And you didn t even have to get shots to visit.

Contact Jenni Laidman at: jenni@theblade.com or 419-724-6507.



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