by Mallory Moad
“Look! It’s a rhino! And it’s REAL!” This statement didn’t come out of the mouth of a seven-year old. It was my reaction to seeing this magnificent creature, one of many awesome animals residing at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. There’s no CGI here, folks.
Some people I know get the creeps over the idea of a zoo, often with good reason. In the past, zoos were nothing more than collections of wild animals on display, usually inhumanely, for the amusement of people. But today, many modern zoos, including the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, focus on education, conservation, breeding programs, and animal rescue and rehabilitation. Cages have been replaced by replications of natural habitats, and the enclosures are appropriate for the size of the animals.
Take, for example, African Adventure, the Zoo’s newest feature. Over 100 animals have made this 13-acre exhibit their home, including that rhino and its partner. Nearly invisible fences keep predators and prey separated, creating the feeling of a completely open space. An elevated viewing area puts you on eye level with giraffes and plexiglass walls provide an up-close-and-personal perspective of cheetahs and lions (should they choose to grace you with their presence). The overall effect is breath-taking – I felt like I’d been transported to a land far, far away.
My next destination was Sea Lion Cove, one of my favorite places in the Zoo. Based on California’s Point Lobos, this exhibit is home to harbor seals and California sea lions. Sand and ocean sounds make me feel as if I am actually on a beach, especially on a cool and sunny January afternoon. This seascape is impressive on its own, but what makes Sea Lion Cove unique is its underwater viewing area. A ramp takes you down, down, down to a huge plexiglass window that allows you to see the seals and sea lions on their own terms in their own environment. Most of us are used to seeing how these creatures move on land: awkward and clumsy. However, once they hit the water they become graceful, streamlined, and speedy. I could sit here all day in a seal-induced trance.
There is so much for everyone to see and do, from African Adventure and Sea Lion Cove to the Rainforest and Reptile House. You can make friends with goats, sheep, and llamas at Valley Farm or get your hands wet at Stingray Bay. Scheduled throughout the day are “keeper chats,” which provide the opportunity to ask questions about specific animals and learn about their natural habitat, their behavior, and how they are cared for at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. But I’ve learned quite a few things just by observation: rhinos are fast on their feet, flamingos sound like turkeys, giraffes have furry lips, and goats are pickpockets.
I will visit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo again soon and maybe I’ll see you there. But this time, let’s plan on spending the entire day!
My name is Mallory Moad, and I live in a wonderful place called the Central Valley.
You can learn more about the Fresno Chaffee Zoo on their website.