EVEN BETTER THAN I IMAGINED!!!

Posted in animals on October 13th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We are back from Illinois; actually we got back a few days ago, but things here have been so non-stop that I’m not even unpacked from the weekend trip yet – working on that this week.  But I had to take a break and write about the super fun Jack Hanna show that we were able to see while in Illinois – after all my anticipating, it was somehow even better than I had imagined!!!

We were the first ones to arrive at Aurora’s Paramount Theater (a lovely old-fashioned theater with beautiful architecture – in fact, it was chosen  to be the setting for a few scenes of the Johnny Depp movie about the mobster John Dillinger called Public Enemies that was recently released), so we opted to stand in line rather than wait at the bar.  This way, we were first upstairs for our “Jamboree Lunch” and got first pick of our seats.  Seeing as how there were only two ways that Jack could get up to the second floor – stairs or elevator – we chose the table nearest both entrances.  We went to go pick up our lunch – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, fruit snacks, and chips situated in a safari hat – and came back to our table which had a bunch of little animal toys on it: lion rulers, a finger puppet zebra, coloring pages, and a parachuting tiger (oh how tempting it was to let him loose over the railing to sail down into the lobby… but Jack was due to arrive, so we were on our best behavior).  Once we saw that all of the kids at the event were going to be seated elsewhere, I scooped up all of the jungle paraphernalia and put it in my purse.  We put on our safari hats and ate our PB & J – did I mention that this event was designed for kids?  Had we known before we got there, we would have brought our kids, but it wasn’t very well organized and so we didn’t really realize it until we got there – oh well.  All was forgotten once Jack Hanna arrived!!  If you don’t know who Jack  Hanna is, here is a brief synopsis:  Jack Hanna is an animal guy, and he was the director of the now world famous Columbus Zoo from 1978-1992.  In that time, he put that zoo on the map; it went from being a place that even locals didn’t know existed to a world renowned animal facility, and attendance at the zoo increased by 400%!  He now travels the world visiting endangered species, zoos, and making live show and tv show appearances (his monthly appearances on David Letterman’s show are always entertaining!!), all in the name of bringing awareness to wildlife conservation.

So anyway, at the Jungle Jamboree lunch, Jack goes from table to table (preceded by a woman carrying a baby wallaby in a pouch and a man with a fox), and he comes to our table first!!  He had limited time at each table of course, but he autographed a little picture of himself, and we did have time to tell him how we saw him at Sea World on our honeymoon in 1999.  He asked if we liked animals, and my response went something like this: “Duh, huh huh huh”.  As much as I had been thinking about what to say to Jack, it happened to me again.  When I finally met him, I was dumbfounded and couldn’t think about the most important things to talk about in such a little time.  No matter; we would be meeting him AGAIN later that same day!!

So after that, we went back downstairs to the merchandise table, and Hubby bought me Jack’s new book (My Wild Life – it’s kind of a re-write / update to my favorite book, Monkeys on the Interstate.  But I didn’t have this new book yet, and needless to say now that I have it, my reading of the Harry Potter series has taken a backseat!), and we waited for Jack to finish at the lunch tables upstairs.  He came downstairs, there was just a few minutes wait, and then we met him AGAIN and he signed my new book, plus ALL of the books of his that I had brought along – and I had a huge purse full.  We explained to him that he is our favorite celebrity (“Oh, I’m not a celebrity!”  he said.), and the nice guy behind us took this picture (note that Hubby still has on his safari hat!):

Not sure what to do with ourselves after our autograph session, we were SO tempted to get back in line.  After all, Jack  Hanna, our favorite celebrity animal conservation personality was sitting within 10 feet of us!  But we wanted to give other people a chance to meet him, and I’m glad we chose to just stand there and gawk at him from the sidelines for 25 minutes rather than getting back in line – turns out that some people didn’t get a chance to get his autograph since he was whisked away to get ready for the stage show.  It just wouldn’t have been fair for us to be in the line twice.  He announced later that people who didn’t get a chance to get his autograph could just email his website and an autographed pic would be sent out.  No offense, Jack, but that’s just not the same as meeting you in person!  I am SO thankful that we got to meet him, and he is even more humble and down-to-earth than he seems on tv!!

Well, this blog post got lengthy, and I haven’t even talked about the stage show yet, so I think I will cut this into multiple posts as my little guy is finished with his ‘quiet time’.  Unfortunately for me (and my ever-growing list of housework), my 2-year-old has outgrown his naps so I don’t have nearly as much free time during the day as I need to get everything done.  So you’ll have to wait until my next post (or two or three) to read about the actual Jack Hanna stage show (best show I’ve EVER seen!!!) and the other stuff we crammed into our jam-packed super-fun Illinois weekend.  Until then…

Been Waiting Over 7 Years For This!!!

Posted in animals on July 30th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , ,

I HAVE TICKETS TO SEE JACK HANNA!!!

I’ve been waiting MORE than 7 years for this!  Mr. Hanna became a personal hero of mine and Hubby’s around 1998, and as we were driving down to Florida from Illinois for our honeymoon in 1999, we speculated on how cool it would be to run into Jack Hanna since we were going to Sea World (where he would and still does often appear).  And guess what happened?  We ran into Jack Hanna at Sea World!!!  We were going down to an underwater viewing area for one of the exhibits (don’t even remember which one, don’t care), and it was roped off with a sign, “tv show taping in progress”.  Just as we turned around, they took down the ropes, and so we went in, and there was Jack Hanna!  And we were the only fans in there with him!  I got tougue-tied, and I forgot every question I wanted to ask him, but luckily, Hubby was able to explain to him what big fans we were.  Jack Hanna autographed a special picture for us, even writing our names on it, but I’m sad to say that this honeymoon treasure was one of a few coveted items that was put in a special box and left with so-called trusted friends during a move when it wouldn’t fit into our car.  Unfortunately, the “friends” never sent the box to us as they promised, and who knows what has happened to our Jack Hanna autograph or other treasures by now?

But that’s not the point.  I’ve been hoping to replace it and to see Mr. Hanna do a show, but he never has appearances close to my corner of Ohio.  He came to Toledo once 7 years ago, but the ticket prices were kind of steep, especially since we didn’t know if our then 2-year-old would enjoy it, plus we had just moved to the state and didn’t know any babysitters.  I’ve regretted not going to Jack’s Toledo show ever since, especially when he hasn’t come close to the area.  But about a month ago, I happened to check his website, and Jack was going to be less than 2 hours away from us AS WELL as appearing in the town where my parents live – TWO opportunities to see him!  So anyway, long story short, we have tickets to see JACK HANNA in OCTOBER!!!  I can’t wait!  This is going to make it so much easier for me to have to forget about the MLB post-season this year (my team is terrible this year and essentially eliminated themselves opening day).

Before the show, we are scheduled to attend a Jungle Jamboree with Jack Hanna also!  Maybe I can find a way to get my honeymoon autographed picture replaced.  Hubby actually tried once to get me one for a birthday, but there was mis-communication, and Jack Hanna signed it to my husband instead of to me.  I actually thought that was pretty funny and classic Jack – totally something he would do as Jack tends to use his brain to store animal facts rather than organizational details.  I think I’ll bring my favorite book, Monkeys on the Interstate for him to autograph also; I just have to sneak backstage with all my things I want him to autograph somehow.  And I’ll have to read Monkeys on the Interstate again just so I can study up on it and write a list of questions down to ask Jack in case I get the chance again – I WILL NOT get tongue-tied this time!!!  I’ll have to take a break from reading the Harry Potter series, so now I definitely won’t be finished in time to get to see part one of the last Harry Potter movie while it’s in the theater – OH WELL!  I’m going to see Jack Hanna live on stage!!!

A highly recommended read for any zoo lover - Monkeys on the Interstate by Jack Hanna

The Great Zoo Debate

Posted in animals on February 25th, 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is a sad post for me to write – a veteran trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed yesterday by an Orca whale at Sea World in Orlando, Florida.  Reports of the incident have been conflicting, but it seems that the trainer was pulled into the tank when the giant sea mammal grabbed her ponytail.  She subsequently drowned.  Unmistakably, this is a tragedy – pure and simple.

But it also re-awakens the great zoo debate – should humans be able to keep wild animals in zoos?  As they say, you can take an animal out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the animal, and tragedies such as yesterday’s incident at Sea World prove this.  It is also apparent that no matter how many precautions are taken to avoid tragedy, an accident can always occur.  However, I love zoos, and I strongly and truly believe that the conservation education and money raised by zoos has been and will continue to be detrimental in helping certain species survive and bounce back from the brink of extinction.  Many other people disagree, and tragedies such as this and the fatal Siberian tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo in 2007 always add fervor to the great zoo debate, which is depicted in this video from Good Morning America and features zoo advocate Jack Hanna debating with the Vice President of an anti-zoo organization, Born Free:

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In my opinion, they did not let Mr. Hanna have an equal part in the debate.  He has some good points, and it’s very difficult to say where the status of certain endangered species would be right now if it were not for the conservation efforts of zoos and wildlife parks – no one knows what could or would have been either way, so how can that be a part of the debate?  As Mr. Roberts points out, the number of tigers has greatly dwindled over the past century.  But one can also point out that no one knows for sure if it would have been worse had zoos not been educating the public about tigers or if they had not been learning how to breed them in captivity to continue the species.

The bottom line is, in my opinion, (and this is MY blog, so I get the bottom line) zoos and aquariums have taken great strides forward for the preservation of many animal species.  I believe their work and conservation efforts are invaluable to conservation (not to mention how many thousands of jobs zoos, aquariums, wildlife parks, and conservation programs bring to societies in hundreds of countries); in fact, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have funded more than 3,700 conservation projects in more than 100 countries and spend nearly $70 million on conservation initiatives annually.  Remember my post about the Kihansi Spray Toad?  This is just one example of a creature that would be completely extinct (it is believed to be extinct in the wild but still exists in just two zoos in the world) if it weren’t for the efforts of zoos trying to save it.

Obviously what happened in Orlando is a tragedy of great proportion.  And I’m not trying to undermine it, but Dawn’s friends, family, and colleagues are all stating that she was aware of the inherent risks of her job and that she would want nothing but for her work to go on despite what happened.  Perhaps changes need to be made; maybe certain species of animal require bigger and better habitats and different types of interaction and stimulation – the modern zoo world is relatively new, and experts are still learning.  But I think their hard work is invaluable to the world, and I hope that someday, all of this is just as obvious to the nay-sayers as it is to us zoo-lovers.

Kind of puts this into perspective now... I wonder if Marineland in Niagara Falls Canada still allows this after recent tragedies involving the killer whale?

New York Trip Diary Volume 3

Posted in Travel on March 26th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NEW YORK TRIP – MARCH 20-23, 2009 – TAYLOR: 9 yrs, SAMMIE: 4 yrs, DISNEY: 2½ yrs, CHRISTOPHER: 8 mos

(continued from previous posts)

Saturday, March 21 – We awoke about 8:30, which seemed early since we had arrived at our hotel late the night before and the kids stayed up for a little bit even after we arrived.  So we went down to the hotel’s restaurant to get breakfast, which was a mistake.  I had thought it’d be cheaper to eat in the restaurant rather than get room service, and I had also thought we’d be cramped trying to eat in the room.  But down at the restaurant, our kids went nuts, and continued to do so while it took about an hour for the food to come.  And this was a nice restaurant – not a friendly mom n pop place where they actually like and tolerate kids like we’re used to back home.  They did have pretty good hollandaise sauce for their eggs benedict, but my enjoyment of it was severely compromised due to the stress of the kids.  Our server kept walking by and mumbling things, and I’ll admit that our 8 month old son does make a mess when he eats, but don’t they all?  We cleaned up the best we could, but that didn’t stop the server from “stealing” our change.  That’s right, when we paid the bill, the included 14% gratuity apparently wasn’t enough for him because he failed to bring the change back.  Rather than try to track down Mr. Rude (we are SO not in Kansas anymore!), my husband took up the issue with the front desk.

Next it was time for the business meeting (the reason we came, I guess), and so Manny Jamy took the kids down to the pool while hubby and I met with the clients.  Except they were late, and while we were waiting, I began to have doubts about the baby and I being disruptive to the meeting, so I took him back to our room to put on his bathing suit so he could join his sisters in  the pool.  Just as I arrived, so did Manny Jamy with the rest of the kids, and we decided to take them for a walk outside instead.  Our hotel was on the New Jersey side, and offered a postcard view of the New York skyline:

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Even though I had never been there before, it seemed to me that there was indeed a gaping hole where the twin towers used to stand, and Jamy who had been there before confirmed this.  We watched many a garbage barge sail by, and I was surprised to find that the sea gulls in New York are quite bashful – I guess I’m used to the ones at Sea World and Marineland Canada where they’ll just swoop down and swipe the fish you buy to feed the dolphins and whales.  But it was a nice day, and our hotel offered a nice little pocket of solstice tucked away from the frenzied traffic of the city.  I wanted to kill as much time down there as possible since we were short on room in the car and my packing of toys for the hotel room had to be limited.  But my oldest was tired – she fell asleep on a bench outside – and her little brother started losing it because he also needed a nap so badly.  So we went back up to the room to wait for my husband’s meeting to be over.  Manny Jamy was nice enough to watch  the two middle girls so  that I could catch a nap with my oldest and the baby, and it was MUCH needed and MUCH appreciated.  Our 2 year old fell asleep as well, which was a good thing, but I was disappointed I couldn’t take her to be shown off to the clients when my husband called – she is awfully cute!  So anyway, I went down to meet the clients, and they were extremely nice.    They have a baby who was born just 9 days before my son, and she was really adorable!  I was disappointed – if I had known they had brought the baby, I would have stayed at the meeting and let the babies play together!  Oh, well, at this point, I was just glad to be done with work and ecstatic to be well-rested so that we could go to the city and have SOME FUN!

Because we were on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, every time we wanted to go into the city, we had to wait for our hotel shuttle to take us to the ferry station, then wait for the ferry to take us across the river, and then board a Waterway bus (different from a city bus, as we later learned) to take us to our destination in the city.  Not a big deal, but by the end of the trip, it had gotten a little tiresome to add that much traveling time to get where we wanted to go.  So anyway, Saturday night, we ventured into the city to take a bus tour on one of those double-decker, open-topped buses.  On the way to the tour bus stop, we weaved our way through the massive crowd that is the Manhattan theater district on a Saturday night.  We did have a few celebrity sightings; including the actor Morgan Freeman:

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though Mr. Freeman did have the personality of a candle, as Jamy pointed out.  We also saw multiple Statues of Liberty walking around, but a few of them were getting into trouble with the police.  Now that’s something you don’t see everyday – a Statue of Liberty getting arrested – too bad I didn’t get my camera ready in time to take a picture, that would have been one for the scrapbook!  We also saw Bugs Bunny, Elmo, 2 Cookie Monsters, a walking sandwich, a naked cowboy (don’t ask), and Batman.  Except I don’t think it was the real Batman unless he’s always been African American – besides, the real Batman would have been fighting crime in Gotham City, not posing for pictures on the streets of New York.  Here is one of the Cookie Monsters – look carefully and you can see Elmo to the right:

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We got suckered by some street vendors and sampled their wares of smoked meat, hot dogs, and art.  My husband bought a caricature of our oldest daughter and a sign with our youngest daughter’s name in caligraphy, but walking around with those souvenirs was like writing “suckers” on our foreheads – we got hit up for everything after that, from purses to sunglasses to comedy show tickets.  Actually, we kind of got “had” again- when my husband bought the $5 sign for our daughter, the artist started putting a frame on it, which would have upped the price to $20.  My husband kept saying, “no frame, no frame!” but all of a sudden, the artist no longer spoke English, so he went ahead and framed it and charged us $20.  My husband did not pay him the full $20, but I know it was still more than the $5 it was supposed to have cost – oh well, you only visit New York once, at least in our case – I won’t go back, at least not with little kids!

So then we boarded our tour bus, and that was really neat, informative, and offered gorgeous views of the city at night.

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Ok, the picture obviously doesn’t do it justice, but here is my 2-year-old daughter seeing her first skyscraper:

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It was kind of chilly, and we tried moving down to the first floor of the bus, but the view did not compare with what we could see on the top, so we ended up moving upstairs again.  The city was gorgeous at night, but when we went over the Manhattan Bridge, it was so high up, it was kind of freaky!  Being on the top of the bus and looking down, you couldn’t even see the road, just the water below, and I couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to just leap over the side…  not that I would do that of course, I’m just saying.

After the bus tour, we tried to find the Waterways bus – the one that would go back to the ferry station, but we had some trouble.  We ended up sitting on  a street corner for about two hours.  We stopped a passing taxi, figuring we’d just pay the expense just to get us and the kids off the streets of New York, but we couldn’t even all fit in one taxi.  I was strongly against the idea of splitting up in any way, shape or form, so our next idea was to stop a passing horse and carriage.  While asking the very friendly Irish driver directions to the ferry bus, his horse took a gi-normous leak right there on the street, but at least the girls were momentarily entertained.  We declined the $70 horse and buggy ride, and finally the Waterways bus arrived – my husband practically jumped in front of it to stop it since the previous one had passed us by, but it worked – the bus actually picked us up!

Overall, an interesting night in New York.  And it’s not like I expected people to be overly nice.  I certainly didn’t expect it to be like my hometown, where you can’t walk down the street without strangers saying hi and you can’t walk around with kids at night without people offering you a lift.  But it was still an adjustment – every time we’d ask how to get to the Waterways bus, people would just point off in a general direction and grunt, even police.  And it was amazing to me how a family with 4 small children could set up camp on a street corner for 2 hours without one soul taking notice – I swear, we could have moved there and no one would have known nor cared.  By the end of it all, I can’t believe how sick of Times Square I was…  Oh, and I forgot to mention, while we were searching for the Waterways bus, we came across a small deli that was actually recommended  to us by our tour bus driver – Z Deli.  The place had amazing falafel and gyro sandwiches!  And their prices were reasonable, especially for New York City – no, reasonable is not even the word for them.  I’m talking $.99 slices of pizza, and the huge gyro sandwich was only $3.99!  Its only shortcoming was the lack of places to sit, but the guys who run the place went out of their way to accommodate us (in anti-New York style, it seems), letting us dine at their “internet cafe” area.

So after the “miracle bus” picked us up, took us to the ferry station, and we rode the ferry and picked up the hotel shuttle, it was very late and we were exhausted.  It exhausts me just to type out the story, as it probably exhausts the reader to absorb my excruciating details, so now’s a good time to cut this volume short – more later…

Zoo Traveler

Posted in animals, Travel on January 26th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I really like to travel (NO FLYING THOUGH!), and we were fortunate enough to do lots of it – before we had so many little kids, of course.  We still try to make a yearly trip to Florida, especially while we can still fit the entire family in one car – something that soon won’t be easily accomplished as the kids grow older.  At each travel destination, I have to admit that my favorite tourist attraction is always the local zoo.  I made a list of all the zoos and/or wildlife parks I have visited, and I hope to add to it soon!  Here is the list by state, country, or territory, followed by the city in which it’s located.  An asterisk following the zoo means it no longer exists.  I put notes about some of the places in italics as sort of a guide in case you’re interested in visiting one of those particular attractions and want some info straight from a tourist’s mouth.

California:
Sea World San Diego
San Diego Zoo

Canada:
Bird Kingdom Niagara Falls Aviary, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario – this place is very cool.  You can hand-feed deer, Beluga Whales or even Orcas (Killer Whales).  You can throw food down to bears who beg and do tricks.  There are also a variety of amusement park rides for the whole family.  Look at me petting the Orca!

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Washington, DC
National Zoo

Florida:
Wooten’s Wilflife Park, Florida Everglades – a cool, family owned place where you can see animals on display; including alligators, crocodiles, and Florida panthers.  You can also hold and feed baby alligators!  I wonder if they still exist; their website hasn’t been updated since ’06!
Sea World, Orlando
Gatorland, Orlando
Animal Kingdom, Orlando

Idaho:
Zoo Boise, Boise

Illinois:

Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield – this is the zoo I grew up going to.  In the 80’s when I was a frequent visitor, they had many ‘celebrity’ animals, with interesting stories to match.
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
Peoria Wildlife Park, Peoria
Cosley Zoo, Wheaton
Glen Oak Zoo, Peoria
Henson Robinson Zoo, Springfield
Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington – yuck, not one of my favorite places.  Their tiger exhibits consisted of teeny tiny cages, and they had a really scrawny, terrible looking tiger, at least in the late ’90’s when we lived in the area.  Hopefully they’ve cleaned the place up.
Scovill Zoo, Decatur

Indiana:
Ft Wayne Children’s Zoo – a perfectly sized zoo to visit with kids.  They have a wide variety of animals and some nice exhibits.  They just recently built a chair-lift type ride that will take you over the lion exhibit once it’s finished – cool and scary at the same time!
Potawatomi Zoo,  South Bend
Fun Spot, Angola

Michigan:
Binder Park, Battle Creek

Minnesota:
Minneapolis Zoo, Minneapolis

Missouri:
St Louis Zoo, St. Louis

Nebraska:
Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha – I know they’ve since rebuilt it, but when I visited back in 2001-2002, they had a teeny-tiny exhibit for the gorillas, which made them none too happy.  I actually witnessed a huge male gorilla charge a kid and beat on the glass from his small exhibit – scary!
Henry Doorly safari park, Omaha
Folsom Children’s Zoo, Lincoln – a very nice little zoo located in the heart of Lincoln.  It’s so well-laid out that you can forget you’re in the middle of a capital city, and they have lots of animals in a variety of nice exhibits.

Ohio:

African Safari Wildlife Park, Port Clinton – I love this place!  You can feed deer, elands, huge buffalo and a variety of hoofed mammals from the comfort of your own vehicle.  In season, they have pig races, animals shows, and camel and pony rides for the little ones.
Akron Zoo, Akron – I was really impressed with the layout, exhibits, and the happiness of the animals – a very impressive little zoo!
Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland
Columbus Zoo, Columbus – a zoo no one had heard about until my favorite celebrity, Jack Hanna got ahold of it and made it a world-reknown facility.  Huge zoo, and the only place to see my favorite animals, manatees in my home state of Ohio!
*Sea World Ohio, Aurora – we actually lived in Illinois at the time we visited here, but I’m glad we got to see it before they sold it to Six Flags, who sold it to Cedar Fair.  Any of the other Sea Worlds are quite a hike from IL or OH for that matter, especially for a non-flyer such as myself.
Toledo Zoo, Toledo

Pennsylvania:
Pittsburgh Zoo – very impressive zoo!  Lots of kid-friendly playgrounds and interactive areas. The polar bear habitat looked really cool – people go through a tunnel that the bears can swim over – but we didn’t see it since the bears weren’t in the pool.  I NEED a second look at this zoo and will definitely allow more time when I get back there!
ZOOAMERICA North American Wildlife Park, Hershey – We did not care for this zoo at all.  We visited in the late ’90’s, so maybe they’ve added more to it by now.  But at that time, they only had animals indigenous to North America, and let’s face it, those are easy to spot in most areas of the U.S.  And let’s face it, the real star tourist destination in Hershey is the chocolate factory!

South Dakota:
Great Plains Zoo and Museum, Sioux Falls – I visited here with my family when I was 15.  This place was amusing to us because attached to the zoo is the museum, which has many taxidermied specimans.  We joked that this zoo had more dead animals than live ones!
*Marineland, Rapid City – note the asterisk, this place doesn’t exist anymore, thank goodness.  When we visited in the summer of ’93, they had dolphins and sea lions held in such tiny cages and pools, it was sickening.  I haven’t been able to find much info on this place, but I’m sure they were shut down because of poor treatment of their animals.  I can only hope the animals found a better home.
Bear Country USA, Rapid City – a cool drive-thru bear habitat experience – keep those windows rolled up!!!  And check out the baby bear nursery – so adorable!

Wisconsin:
Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison
*Serpent Safari, Wisconsin Dells

GRAND TOTAL AS OF 2009:

41 animal-themed places in 2 countries, 13 states, 1 district…  and counting!