Saturday, May 06, 2006

Best. Zoo. Ever. 

As always, click on the pic for more photos from our day at the zoo...
Willow with wallaby - woo!

We're big proponents of tourism in bad weather, having once experienced a blissful 45 degree day at Disney World with no lines. So when the weather websites once again proved totally out of sync with the realities of New England sun-to-rain, we were more than prepared to hit the local zoo we had heard so much about.

Well, that, and after 15 hours of allergy-encrusted sleep between yesterday afternoon and this morning, I was itching to get off my ass and out of the house to spend some time with my wonderfully Daddy-tolerant family.

We arrived at Lupa Zoo just after 11 under overcast skies just beginning to let loose; bundled kids into the ever-handy double stroller befitted with oversized umbrella; scrounged up enough singles to make it through the gate only to discover that though there was no credit taken at the gate, the underage countergirl at the tiny gift shop was happy to call what was surely a mom-slash-owner to run the espresso machine and sell us a couple of boxes of animal snack crackers.

From there, we wandered what turned out to be an exquisitely intimate and friendly game farm that depends on visitors to feed the animals. Each pen, from Antelope to Zebra, allows closer-than-typical proximity to the animals, in order that bran crackers and purchased seed corn might be dropped down the everpresent chute or, in many cases, gifted open-hand through the crisscross fence to the lipping mounth of all sorts of fun exotics.

One note, for those (like myself) that have seen exotic animal care from behind the scenes: as our friendly and oddly ubiquitous young zookeeper mentioned over the course of our visit, the trade-off in making a zoo that is so visitor-oriented, so mellow and so intimate, so close-packed with face-to-face encounters of everything living and interesting is that a) there is no behind the scenes in which to care for and train animals, and b) the usual method of coaxing animals with food is lost to the "visitors feed everyone" phenomenon, which leaves little incentive for, say, the bear or coatimundi to behave for vets and caretakers.

But this is a minor quibble, one well worth (in this visitor's opinion) the experience that results. How often can you climb a staircase to handfeed a giraffe with a three year old? Or let the one-year-old walker rub noses with a baby Zebu? We saw more animals than people, which beats most zoo-goers experience anytime; never went more than 30 seconds without seeing another beast or bird close at hand. We stayed for over two hours, an unheard of success for kids this age past naptime on a rainy Saturday. Enough said, I say.

Overall, Lupa Zoo is a marvel of zoos, one which takes the typical "each animal a separate viewing spectacle" phenom of the modern zoo and replaces it with adjacency, an easy walk from one animal to the next, and even a single indoor space in the zoo center teeming with simians cages that twist around each other, bats up close, small monkeys clutching surprisingly human-like babies up to their chests mere inches away from our peering faces, aligators in an honest-to-god bathtub.

It doesn't feel like a spectacle, or a planned experience. It has no real commercial component; has two tiny gift shops of cameras and snacks, but it doesn't even have professionally made souveniers. Heck, the halloween decorations are still up from last year.

Lupa Zoo rocks, and that's all there is to it. It feels like a petting zoo, a community, an open barn in someone's backyard. It feels safe, open, and inviting. They run on biodiesel, compost heavily, and encourage visitors to bike in. They guy who built it lives in a nice house just past the aviary and the bobcats; you can see in his windows.

In fact, I'm planning on calling sometime soon to see if they take volunteers -- or want to hire this old museum educator for weekend educational programs, maybe.

If you're ever driving through Ludlow, Ma, call ahead and we'll meet you at Lupa Zoo. Just don't forget to bring cash to get in.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:50 PM |

I never knew we had a zoo so close! It will be a trek from Brattleboro, but we will have to make it some day soon. I just wish I had some kids to drag along.
Post a Comment
coming soon
now listening