Akron Zoo’s motto may have always been “You’ve Never Been this Close,” but that was never truer than at our recent VIP Animal Experience. The behind-the-scenes experience is designed for up to four guests ages 6 and over, and largely takes place before the zoo opens for the day. We took our six-year-old daughter Hazel, who has been missing the zoo due to our COVID-19 precautions.
Hazel got to be king for a day (don’t tell the lions) when zoo education director Autumn Russell and team member Todd Boerner spent two and a half hours zooming our family around the zoo in a golf cart for a series of activities. Being alone in the zoo is magical, but it also felt especially safe during the pandemic, which was a draw for mom and dad.
We colored and stuffed bags for the grizzly bears (they can see and enjoy color — who knew?) with all their favorite treats, and watched them eat our bear brunch. We got to feed and exercise the penguins, offer a little human interaction for the lemurs who are off exhibit during COVID-19, and pet the tortoise.
I’m not sure that last sentence adequately conveys how neat it was to pet the tortoise. The rough and papery feeling of 70-year-old tortoise neck made this middle-aged mom feel like a kid again. As you can see from the photos, we got to do so much more during the VIP Animal Experience. But you can’t see everything — we actually weren’t able to take photos on several parts of our tour, including behind-the-scenes at the new Pride of Africa exhibit, where we met some sassy lioness sisters.
This was such an exciting, special day for Hazel (and for her grown-ups too). The VIP Animal Experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about the conservation mission of the zoo hands-on, and to contribute to the zoo during COVID-19, while they are limiting the number of visitors.
Families can learn more about the VIP Animal Experience, and schedule one for their family here: https://www.akronzoo.org/vip-animal-experiences.
View the PHOTOSTREAM here.