Southern zoos worth the price of admission

You’re never in search of something to do with the family if there’s a good zoo nearby. We all know about the biggies: San Diego, St. Louis, D.C. But this is a nation suffused with zoos. Two of the best small- to mid-size animal enclaves are in Birmingham and Greenville, SC.  Each, in its own way, is a gem:

Greenville Zoo is a vertical affair, all 14 acres of it. You can do this zoo in about an hour and a half without rushing things. Among the must-see exhibits: the Amur Leopards. There are but a handful of the rare, extremely-endangered creatures left on the earth and three of them are here. Learn what’s threatening their shrinking habitat, and how conservationists are responding.

The alligator exhibit is a kids’ favorite. Half of it is above water, the other half below. Get note-to-nose with one of these gators and go gape-jawed. The sixth day of each week is set aside for Saturday Safaris. Two-hour sessions for children are full of arts, crafts and creativity as they learn more about the world of animals.

The Birmingham Zoo is larger. More than 800 creatures make their home at this mid-size zoo on the city’s near south side. Among the high points: a first-rate Primate House where gorillas, orangutans, and assorted monkeys have reign over a well-designed, intimately accessible domain. Like unto it is a remarkably laid out Predator House. The eye of the tiger takes on a whole new tone here as you get an up-close-and personal look at one of the world’s most beautiful carnivores.

The design of the zoo’s nicely-sized habitats makes the most of this part of Alabama’s mountainous, rolling terrain. If you want to see the zoo in one fell swoop there’s a miniature train. Board as far ahead in line as you can. That last observation car, the one with the rearward-facing seats, fills up fast.

Story by Jerry Chandler

(Images: Bermingham Zoo)