The last time Tom and I visited the Columbus Zoo was sometime in 1980 when he and I were dating. At that time it was not the world-renowned zoo that it is today. Jack Hanna had just started as Director of the Zoo and had not yet begun the numerous television appearances that made him a household name. Considering that it had been 36 years with lots of changes, it was time to go back to the Columbus Zoo.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium opened in 1927 with a collection of animals and cages donated by the Wolfe family who owned the Columbus Dispatch. It continued along this line until 1978 when Jack Hanna was hired as Director to take the Columbus Zoo in a new direction. For the first time, animals enclosures were developed that mimicked what the animal would have known in the wild. It started with Colo, the lowland gorilla, and soon expanded to all areas of the zoo.
Jack Hanna appeared on national television for the first time on Good Morning America in 1983. He appeared on the David Letterman show for the first time in 1985 and a star was born! Jack Hanna’s humor, the antics of the animals, and his ability to educate the public made him a regular on the Letterman show. Because of the increased attention, Franklin County voters approved tax support for the zoo for the first time in 1985. Jack Hanna continued to work to develop the mission of the Columbus Zoo with a worldwide emphasis on animal and habitat conservation. In 2008 Zoombezi Bay opened, the only waterpark in the world attached to a zoo. All the profits from the waterpark go to support the work of the zoo.
We went to the Columbus Zoo last week on an adventure day with my parents. It was a gorgeous day but still unseasonably warm for Ohio. The four of us bought a bench in memory of Patricia Lang, a family friend who loved to volunteer at the zoo. So the Director of Philanthropy arranged for tickets for us at the will-call window and walked around with us for a little while. We found the donated bench at the entrance in front of the pond. It was a beautiful place for the bench and we all had our pictures taken on it as we remembered Patricia. The place was picture-perfect! Now they can move the bench wherever they want in the park and we will be happy.
The Columbus Zoo has many different areas to explore. We rode the shuttle to “The Heart of Africa” and walked around there. We fed the giraffes – no petting even though the urge was almost irresistible – and saw the lions. We watched different animals in the savanna, including warthogs, zebras, kudus, and gazelles. We wanted to eat in the restaurant beside the savanna, but it was closed because it was a weekday in September. We thought about taking a ride on a camel but decided to save that for another day.
We wandered through “North America” and especially enjoyed the caribou standing in front of the industrial fan trying to stay cool. Most of the animals throughout the zoo were lying down and napping because of the heat. On hot days, the zoo keepers rotate the animals in and out of air-conditioned buildings where they can be more comfortable.
We had lunch at a totally uninspired sandwich stand and then checked out “Asia Quest.” I watched a small elephant work on getting some food for quite a while. He would hit a suspended basket of hay with his trunk until he knocked enough loose that he could get a trunkful. He was having to work for it and it was fun to see his playfulness and intelligence.
When we were done in “Asia Quest” it was time to leave. We had walked enough in the heat that we headed to Graeters Ice Cream for some cool, refreshing creaminess. Graeters is our favorite place to get ice cream in Columbus. John and Jackie make sure I always have a Graeters gift card so we have an excuse to go.
We had a great day at the Columbus Zoo. If Tom and I were in Columbus all the time, we would get a membership at the zoo. Not only does it support the continuing work of the zoo, but we could see a little bit of the park, attend special shows, and go there as often as we wanted for as short or long a time as we wanted. In this way the zoo will keep getting better. We certainly won’t wait another 36 years to go again!