May 2014 Issue
With the return of Franklin Park Conservatory’s “Blooms & Butterflies” and the opening of Heart of Africa at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, our capital city is going wild.
Some places throughout the globe find re-creating the wide, grassy plains of the African savanna too much of a chore. Instead, they rely on a few trees and the blistering summer sun to create the illusion. Columbus, Ohio, is not one of those places.
When the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium embarked on the journey to create its new Heart of Africa exhibit, president and CEO Tom Stalf explains the idea was not to have a few animals in cages, but to show visitors exactly what they would look like living in the wild.
“Zoos have evolved over the years. Thirty or 40 years ago, they just [presented] an animal and they put them in a cage,” he says. “Now, what zoos are doing is replicating the habitat that the animal resides in, and focusing also on the culture around that habitat.”
The 43-acre, $35 million project is “many, many years,” (including more than two years of construction) in the making, with special grass-growing techniques borrowed from professional sports teams, a climate-controlled indoor facility for the animals (on chilly nights) and a lot of creative ideas. The zoo aims to show a never-before-seen view of the 150 new African animals, most of which have never been at the Columbus Zoo before.
The centerpiece of the attraction is the savanna area — home to a broad mixture of animals, including a contained area for the lions, space for the giraffes to graze and a strategically designed watering hole that will spotlight different animals throughout the day.
“When you look out at it, you see no fences, you see no houses,” says Adam Felts, one of the zoo’s assistant curators who has worked closely on the project. “To develop and design that kind of thing with no fences visible is kind of a challenge.”
Without the help of unnatural borders, such as fences or cages, designers of the environment had to focus on the animals’ natural behaviors to dictate their movement. Felts says they knew that most of the animals involved don’t like to walk on uneven, rocky terrain, so they separated some of the areas with boulders and rocks to prevent animal movement. In other places, such as the watering hole, only certain species will be allowed in at the same time.
The watering hole will host different animals at various times throughout the day, and trainers will also use the space to illustrate animal characteristics, such as showing cheetahs chasing a lure at full speed. “The idea is, when you’re in Africa, you never know what you’ll see at the watering hole,” Felts says.
Visitors’ access to the lions will be in an interesting setting as well. An airplane fuselage bisected by a thick pane of glass will bring visitors face to face with the kings of the jungle. Diners can also choose to enjoy their meal with an up-close view of the majestic animals from the comfort of a new restaurant.
There will also be multiple opportunities daily to feed the giraffes, an animal that Felts says zoo patrons have missed since their departure eight years ago.
“It’s really cool; it’s really neat,” he says. “How often will you be able to feed a giraffe? So I’m excited to see the visitors’ reaction and the response.”
The zoo expects to open Heart of Africa by the end of May, although unpredictable Ohio weather may dictate the exact opening day for what Stalf expects will surely be the zoo’s main attraction once summer arrives.
“[The African savanna] has never been displayed like this anywhere in the world,” he says. “We’re very excited for the opportunity to showcase and highlight animals from Africa and also embrace the culture around it.”
For more information about Heart of Africa and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, visit colszoo.org.
The seasonal stars at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens this summer are small in size, but they’ll provide visitors a glimpse inside the fascinating world of butterflies.
“We have [ones] that you don’t get to see every day in Ohio,” says interpretation specialist and butterfly enthusiast Chris Kline, who has worked on the annual “Blooms & Butterflies” attraction for the past four years. “All of our butterflies are tropical. Most of them are found in rainforests.”
About 2,000 butterflies reside in Franklin Park Conservatory’s Pacific Island room, and around 35 to 40 species can be seen at any given time. Some are emerging from their chrysalises while others are flying around the space.
The warm temperature creates a tropical environment for the butterflies, and the exhibit’s many brightly colored nectar blooms make the insects feel at home. While they get spooked at times when skies are filled with dark clouds, Kline says the butterflies offer visitors an incredible experience on clear summer days. “If [guests] come on a nice sunny day, when they go into the Pacific Island room they should have butterflies all around them,” he says. “There will be butterflies feeding on the various nectar plants that are in there; butterflies feeding at the different fruit stations that we have.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of “Blooms & Butterflies,” one of Franklin Park’s most popular annual attractions.For 2014, the exhibit has an expanded area for kids’ activities, where children can look through a lens that simulates a butterfly’s compound eyes or take pictures with butterfly wings painted on the wall. There are also 30 different butterfly trading cards and a field guide put together by the conservatory.
One of the main attractions is when Kline and other handlers host butterfly releases, during which they showcase species and explain what makes them unique. The winged creatures keep them busy throughout the summer. As Kline points out, butterflies might be small, but they’re not so easy to wrangle. “They don’t always respond to voice commands very well,” he adds with a laugh.
“Blooms & Butterflies” is open now and runs through Sept. 28. For more information, visit fpconservatory.org.
WHEN YOU GO:
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
4850 Powell Rd., Powell 43065
Hours: See website for hours.
Admission: $14.99, 60 & older $10.99, children 2–9 $9.99,
free for ages 2 and under
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
1777 E. Broad St., Columbus 43203
Hours: Daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Admission: $12, seniors &
students $9, children 3–17 $6,
free for ages 2 and under