Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The best small zoo in America - the Greenville Zoo

A favorite place of ours here in Greenville is the zoo. Certainly not as big as Brookfield Zoo, nor integrated with a museum like the Greensboro Science Center, it does however have the benefit of being conveniently located just outside of downtown, and of being “do-able” in an hour or two. This is our second year with a membership, which has a few advantages. One being the opportunity to visit as often as we wish, there is also less pressure to linger; if the boys would rather play in Cleveland Park that day, I don’t feel obligated to get "my money’s worth." (Although the entrance fee is reasonable, $8.75 for adults, $5.50 for children ages 3-15) Other perks to the membership include early sign-up and discounts on programs and special events like Boo in the Zoo, free or discounted admission to more than 130 zoos in the US, and extra guest tickets. If you've been to the zoo lately, then you know our little landmark is in for some major changes; the Greenville Zoo 20-year master plan proposal was recently unveiled... and it includes tigers!!!

Source: Greenville Journal, Friday, May 16 2014: Vol. 16, No. 20

The first exhibit upon entering is the African elephant enclosure. Sadly, one of the two elephants passed away this March, and with revised AZA standards regarding elephant enclosures requiring zoos to have three female elephants and room to house a bull, the second elephant Joy will soon be relocating to her new home, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO.

Across from the elephants is a small pond that is home to several species of turtles, but also serves as the home to birds during a quarantine period for new arrivals.

After climbing the stairs or circling around with the stroller we come to the primate section. The critically endangered black-headed spider monkeys, Schmidt’s red-tailed guenons, the black & white ruffed lemurs and the Angola Colobus monkeys are always fun to watch, whether they are eating or swinging around their cages.

Just next door is the reptile building, which houses all the cute and cuddly creatures such as the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, the gulfodulcean poison arrow frogs, tarantulas, rhinoceros iguanas and a slew of snakes including pythons and rattlesnakes.

Keeping right will take you into the loop with Ruppell’s griffon vultures, thought to be the world’s highest flying bird sometimes cruising up to 36,000 feet with the jetliners. The three vultures have a view of the two bear sculptures, the misting station and the zoo jeep that the boys always request to have their pictures taken on.

A little further are the lions, two half-brothers that came from the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia. A big part of Greenville Zoo’s recently unveiled master plan is a new lion enclosure, so we’ll be saying goodbye to Chuma and Saied in the coming years, and welcoming a pair of males and one or two females who will begin a breeding program. The new exhibit will also include an elevated viewing platform.

The Masai giraffes are neighbors to the lions. Last October the female Autumn gave birth to Kiko, broadcast live via the Giraffe Cam, which boasts over one million viewers from all over the world. Walter and Autumn are expecting their second baby in July, so we’ll be able to share the experience of being preggers during the summer in the South.

Returning to the loop we find the Aldabran tortoises: females Aimee & Yin, and male Bubba. With life spans up to 200 years, these giants are the second-largest species of tortoise in the world. Visitors might notice a second, smaller enclosure off of the main space, separated by a series of posts. The purpose of this second enclosure is to provide a haven for the females when the male is being ‘aggressive’; the posts are spaced just wide enough to allow the two smaller females to pass through.

We take a break in the playground before continuing on, as the shaded area with comfortable seating allows for a place to hydrate and rest during the warmer months. Then it’s on to the orangutans  who are often playing very near the viewing glass. Bob was born to Chelsea and Mia in 2006, but despite being eight years old he still often engages in playtime with his parents.

The master plan proposes an expansion to the orangutan exhibit, as well as the leopard exhibit just next door. The Amur leopards, Emerald and Jade, arrived in Greenville as cubs in 2011. A few years ago a female was introduced in hopes that they might breed, but as far as I know the effort wasn’t successful. The leopards are often seen pacing near the viewing glass during the cooler hours of the day, and I’ll be glad for them to have some extra space after the expansion.

The Siamang gibbons can often be heard all the way out to Cleveland park, howling and calling away. They share a plaza with the Palawan peacock pheasant, Prevost’s squirrel, the red pandas and the wreathed hornbills. Although the gibbons have become a favorite (Lauris and Mikus often set up the dining room chairs into a ‘cage’ and then hop around moooo, mooo, mooo-ing), I enjoy the colors of the squirrels, which remind me of the native fox squirrels that live in Southern forests that range in color from albino to black and everywhere between, sometimes with spots and patches.

After passing the gift shop and concessions (for which major improvements are also in store as part of the master plan) we turn right out of the loop, passing the restrooms and coming to the Toco toucan, Ava. The bright orange beak always commands the attention of one of the boys, especially if she’s making the unusual sounds which can startle if unexpected.

My favorites are the ocelots. Often napping on one of the raised platforms, they can sometimes be seen pacing the length of the cage. The master plan calls for a new two-story rainforest exhibit, and I wonder if this will include the ocelots… (Their habitat includes the forests, marshes and grasslands of South and Central America)

The most interactive of exhibits is the white-nosed coatimundi that lives next door. When in a good mood he will race up and down the length of his enclosure with anyone willing. Even Lauris and Mikus running in opposite directions doesn’t dampen Sid’s enthusiasm!

What used to be the aviary house is currently an empty lot, as the old structure was demolished to make way for the new bird aviaries. Previously home to sun conures, a plush crested jay and a northern helmeted currasow, we’re awaiting to see if any new friends will join once the aviary reopens sometime this summer.

The lagoon takes up a large portion of the south end of the zoo. Residents include Chilean flamingos, black swans, white faced whistling ducks, ruddy ducks and hooded mergansers. We’ve seen a host of other waterfowl “visiting,” as well as a black rat snake or two, and the boys are always excited to count the turtles sunning themselves on logs.

The icing on the cake is the alligator enclosure. Home to two American alligators Feisty and Raina, and also two alligator snapping turtles, there is a great viewing station that allows visitors an underwater vista as well as an above-ground view.

Next is the barnyard, featuring four goats, a Vietnamese potbellied pig and a dozen or so chickens and ducks. Crackers to feed these animals (and others in the zoo) are for sale at the front gate.

Last, but certainly not least is the great horned owl. I’m lucky enough to have seen the grand birds in the wild, but an up-close look is certainly interesting in its own way.

I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Greenville Zoo (if you haven’t already), but if not I hope you enjoy this virtual tour. The zoo is certainly an educational resource for the city of Greenville, and I’m glad the funds have been allocated to update the aging infrastructure. Touring the grounds today, it is hard to believe the zoo first opened in 1960 – however great the changes may be. *Interesting fact: the first Greenville Zoo was located in McPherson Park and had ducks and buffalo among several other animals!* As one of the main Greenville attractions with more than 300,000 visitors annually, it’s my hope that the new campaign will find a way to utilize more of the 14 acres that are zoo property (currently occupies only 6) and that the habitats for many of the larger animals will be modernized. Of course we’ve got two boys who are pretty excited about the new tigers…


  1. Oh, I hope we get to move back in time for the Tigers! My boys would love it!

    1. I'm more worried that we'll be gone before the tigers get here... or that the boys will be off to college! It's a 20 year plan after all...

  2. It is a cute small zoo. I liked the giraffes - I can relate to them. :) And the arrival of tigers sure is exciting!

  3. Great photos of the zoo.. I know that your kids LOVED every minute of it. I have always loved zoos---and loved watching my kids when we'd take them when they were little... love it!!!!

    When is the baby due?

    1. Thanks Betsy! The baby is due in mid-August - surely we were a little off on the timing this time! Maybe it won't be a typical Southern summer...

  4. It IS one of the best zoos (of any size) that I've been to. The size of it is perfectly managable for an outing with children (and slow-moving grandmas) - I don't mind going each time I visit!

    1. Yet big enough that I feel like I notice something new every time I go,,,


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