The Memphis Zoo

October 2nd, 2009

(Author’s note:  Since I wrote this, the zoo has been very busy, adding Pandas … yes, kids, Pandas … in an exhibit called China, another whole new exhibit area called the Northwest Passage, featuring polar bears and an underwater viewing area, and the brand new Grand Teton section with its own scale replica of the inn in Yellowstone.)


In beautifully woodsy Overton Park, right where I-40 would have gone if we hadn’t enough sense — thank God — to stop it.

DO THIS.  If this isn’t one of the first things a visitor to the Bluff City hears about from proud Memphians, it ought to be.  The Memphis Zoo is probably ... aw, hell ... IS the best zoo of medium to moderate size anywhere.  From the alabaster white animal statue sentinels out front to the last Siamang scream in the almost-new Primate Canyon.  From the impressive entrance greeting of Egyptian columns, reflecting pools and hieroglyphics (Memphis on the Mississippi is named after ancient Memphis on the Nile) to the exotic temple and waterfalls in the den of the Bengal Tigers.  From the stately Grizzlies and Polar Bears to the precious watchfulness of Meerkats standing guard and the shaggy hilarity of Orangutans just hanging around.  Not just fun, this place is a certifiable blast.  If you don’t like watching the animals, just watch the people.  Watch the lions watching you.  Watch the Cheetahs track you across their lair.  And watch that little girl over there when she discovers the leopard high up on the cliff, or that little boy and his grandfather when the alligator snaps, or the python uncoils, or the guerrilla charges.  Four fairly recent venue additions and a complete redesign of the spectacular entrance area add a major attraction feeling to what was already a time-honored Mid-South must for almost a century of kids and their families.  I turn back into a kid every time I go there.  The four newer venues are:
Cat Country ... just about everything in here thinks you’re lunch; Primate Canyon ... look for cousins, some more distant than others; Creatures Of The Night ... bats, aardvarks, naked mole rats, generally spooky; and Once Upon A Farm ... charming, but you might want to watch your step.  Older, don’t-miss favorites include the sea lions at feeding time and the ... Oh my God, Harry, what is that? ... reptile house with its oh-so-strange collection of snakes, spiders and Technicolor frogs.  In the spring and summer, thousands of butterflies wing their way all about you, sometimes resting on your shoulder or an out-stretched hand in their own screen domain of the Butterflies In Living Color exhibit.  Any time of year, The Memphis Zoo is always funky, always fascinating.

Hey, you got to love a place that names their restaurant The Cat House.

DAN CONAWAY, Memphis Mojo       


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