Houston’s Wild Kingdom: The Houston ZOO by Brian Campbell

1513 North MacGregor Way
Houston, TX 77030
(713) 533-6500

April 2004–Who says the lion is the king of the jungle? I would argue that the full grown male tiger is really who to look out for. Something about these huge cats grabs me every time I see one. The ability tigers have in spite of their size is truly humbling. Lightning fast reflexes and unparalleled hunting and survival skills. Ever since I was a kid I have always loved animals, and especially tigers. If you have ever heard the roar from or seen pictures of the aftermath that these mighty cats leave behind then you know how truly awesome they really are. Here in Houston there is only one place to see such an animal, the Houston Zoo. Whether you’re like me and enjoy big cats or maybe even reptiles then there is something here for you. So one Sunday I decided to head over to the zoo in Herman Park. It was a beautiful day that Sunday and when I pulled into the parking lot I could barely see anything except excited children and their parents rushing for the entrance, and maybe a few people like me who were just alone.

When I got out of the car I instantly smelled the smell of the wild, which can often be unpleasant, but today it smelled particularly good. Vendors on the sidewalks were busy painting kids’ faces and selling things like ice cream and cotton candy. As I walked up to the entrance I could hear the sounds of the animals inside. There were birds from all over the world and monkeys making noise, excited about all the visitors there to see them. The first place I saw once I was inside was the reptile exhibit. If you are a person who is fascinated with small deadly reptiles and extremely colorful fish from all over the world then this is one place you have to check out. I walked up to the glass cage where a 12 foot boa constrictor was housed and watched in awe as it slowly moved its head forward to see what was pressed up against the glass of its home. This creature could crush a grown man with ease if provoked because its entire body is pure muscle, and to me that’s amazing. I don’t personally own a pet but I really enjoy watching animals up close, and especially animals you don’t see everyday. That’s why this is the exhibit to see.

Next I made my way over to the giraffe cage. Now this is a sight everyone should see. The giraffes in this zoo are some of the tallest I have seen yet. They have a specially made “barn” which is high enough for them to walk under and provide shelter in case of a rain storm. It’s very cool to watch these animals eat. They seem so docile but I know I wouldn’t want to be in there if one got mad. I stood there for about five minutes waiting to see if anything was going to happen, but the giraffes just stood there and looked on. By this point I was ready for the main event, the lions and tigers. Although reptiles and giraffes are really neat, this is what just about everyone comes here to see. Some people think lions are more powerful and others are tiger fans. The truth is, they are both just about equally as powerful and would probably never fight one another in case it involved their young. I am a tiger man myself. These cats are the most amazing animals in the world next to the great white shark. Adult tigers can weigh up to 700 pounds and devour up to 77 pounds of meat in one night and then not eat for a week. Yet they are able to move with speed and grace like a small house cat. This exhibit is always crowded so I had to maneuver my way up to the front to get a good look. At first I didn’t see anything at all. I was very disappointed and began to look around trying to catch a glimpse of this awesome cat when all of a sudden I saw it. Perched atop a rock formation above a small creek in the cage sat the huge beast, watching. It knew we were coming long before we got there. The cage is set up with plants and trees and rocks to simulate as best as possible a natural habitat for such a large animal. The tiger had already picked out this place to hide and watch and I realized just how keen its survival and hunting skills were after it revealed itself to us. No one standing outside the cage could spot it until it decided it was time, and who knows if it ever would have? This particular tiger was a large male, almost full grown with a bright coat of orange and black and a beautiful face. It slowly sat up from what I guess was its afternoon nap and gracefully leapt down from its perch about fifteen feet high as though it was no bother at all. I didn’t even hear him land. Then he slowly made his way to the creek to take a swim. Tigers love the water and it was apparent that this one desired a little cooling off because he swam around the creek for about three or four minutes. Before I left the exhibit I heard the tiger growl. Not an angry growl, just a little wake up yawn. Anyone who has ever heard that sound will never forget it, it commands respect. This made my trip all worth while.

If you love animals like I do then its important to visit zoos because they are responsible for keeping certain species alive. The tigers here at the Houston Zoo aren’t the largest I have ever seen, but equally as impressive. In some ways I feel very sorry for these animals that are caged but I also realize that in the wild tigers may live up to 15 years or more. In captivity they often live to be 20 years old. The majority of the proceeds from admission go toward the care of these precious animals who inevitably, if left in the wild, would be poached to extinction. Sixty percent of the world’s tigers are found in India. The Indian government estimates that fewer than 3750 Royal Bengal tigers remain. At this point I had made most of my rounds and had only a few things left I wanted to see but it was time for a drink. I headed for the front area to grab a coke or a snow cone and watched as people lined up to ride paddle boats around a pond in the middle of the park. I drank my coke and watched as people fed the geese and birds around the pond. It was late afternoon now and I had been here long enough so I decided to call it a day and head to the house. I had a lot of fun that day though and I would strongly encourage anyone who desires a lazy afternoon activity which is anything but ordinary to go. Anyone who loves animals will want to pay a visit to the Houston Zoo. I fall into this category and frequently visit the facility. The zoo was originally founded in 1922 after a bison was donated as a gift to the City of Houston from the U.S. Government. This act prompted the city to buy a collection of animals and build a fence around an area of Herman Park where a small zoo already existed. At the beginning the zoo began with only forty animals. Today the zoo hosts over 1.4 million guests every year. Occupying slightly more than fifty-five acres, the zoo includes over 3,000 animals from over 500 species. The zoo is managed by Houston Zoo Inc. which is a non profit organization committed to helping endangered species and educating anyone who is interested in learning more about the animals of the world.

Among the many attractions available to the public are a petting zoo, a wetlands exhibit which houses alligators, and the gorilla habitat where the only eastern lowland gorilla in North America lives. No matter who you are, there is something here for you. Adults and children can also rent paddle boats for rides around the zoo’s pond and check out all of the various water fowl that inhabit the area. When the weather permits you will find face painters, balloons, and cotton candy all along the paths outside the zoo entrance. Over time the Houston Zoo has risen to the seventh most visited zoo in the country, and therefore has proven its devotion to the care and knowledge of animals, and to providing its guests with an experience not soon forgotten. Many endangered species have slowly increased their numbers at this zoo. More than 65 Chinese Alligators have been hatched here since 1995, a reptile who has long been on the endangered species list. Aside from helping animals, the zoo also has a number of volunteer programs and community opportunities to offer Houstonians. The Docent program enlists volunteer teachers to spread education at zoo seminars, exhibits, and at schools all over the Houston area. Houston Zoo Inc. also sponsors a volunteer program which encompasses almost every aspect of the zoo from office assistance to working alongside staff members in classes. Teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 can get involved with the Zoo Crew and spend time in education programs at local facilities including the Brown Education Center and in the zoo’s mammal and bird displays.

Besides the various programs the zoo sponsors, businesses are also invited to host functions at the zoo. There are many options for hosting your next meeting or party in a truly one of a kind atmosphere. I always like the fact that in spite of Houston’s sprawling high rises and businesses everywhere, there is still a place you can go to relax. Herman Park and the zoo have provided a beautiful contrast in the city for people to enjoy themselves and check out some cool animals. For over eight decades the Houston Zoo has provided a unique learning experience for the entire family and also helped to conserve and breed all types of endangered species. This zoo is a place for everyone and certainly a must see for anyone who isn’t a native Houstonian. The zoo is open all year long from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is located at 1513 North MacGregor, Houston, TX. 77030. I have no doubt that this zoo will continue to flourish and support the animals and people of Houston for many more decades to come. Call (713) 533-6500 and check it out for yourself, because if you love animals, you won’t be disappointed.

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4 responses to “Houston’s Wild Kingdom: The Houston ZOO by Brian Campbell

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