Where the wild things are: Knoxville Zoo offers excitement, education and loads of summer fun
By Timothy Hankins (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s been years since I’d been to the zoo. So this past Memorial Day, Mrs. Hankins took me down to see the sights at the Knoxville Zoo.
We had a blast.
I’ve been fascinated by wildlife for as long as I can remember. I have childhood memories of watching Marlin Perkins’ “Wild Kingdom” on television. I also remember a trip to the St. Louis Zoo when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. There’s nothing quite like a trip to the zoo when you’re 6 years old. The sense of wonder and awe that comes from seeing all these creatures great and small — it’s like the whole world has paused for your inspection.
Some people say I’m still the same kid I was back then, just in a bigger, more expensive body. If anything, my recent trip to the zoo proves them right. I ooh-ed, ah-ed and quite nearly jumped up and down in my excitement as we wandered through the exhibits. I still love the wild kingdom.
Knoxville’s zoo sports an impressive collection of exhibits and a wide range of animals. I was surprised by how long it took us to walk around the whole park. It made for a pleasant day’s outing that filled out a good chunk of our Memorial Day plans.
The exhibits are, for the most part, large and seem to be very comfortable for the animals who live there. I was very impressed by the informative signage at each exhibit. There was much to learn about not only the animals, but the zoo itself and its mission in the local community and beyond. The Knoxville Zoo is in several partnerships with other zoos around the country to care for, breed and try to save many endangered and at-risk species. It’s heartwarming to know that such important work is going on right here in East Tennessee.
One of the most interesting exhibits was one I would never have guessed. Knoxville’s zoo has a full-fledged butterfly house. You enter and leave through what amounts to an airlock, and inside the exhibit butterflies flit about from flower to flower. They’ll even land on the visitors. There were several cocoons hatching on the day of our exhibit. Butterflies are some pretty miraculous creatures.
It was a pretty hot day so many of the animals were taking it easy, napping in the shade and waiting out the heat. Not so with the river otters, though. If there’s showbiz in the animal kingdom, otters are the stars. These guys would make sure a little crowd had gathered around their area and then they’d start the show. Swimming up to the glass enclosure, they’d pop their heads out, give a quick nod to the audience then flip backwards and glide away — flipping and twisting like break dancers in the water. When the crowd dispersed, they’d retire to a private corner of the exhibit, only to return to the show as soon as more folks had gathered around.
The Komodo Dragon (our cover girl this week) has to be one of the most fascinating critters I’ve ever encountered. The one on display at the Knoxville Zoo isn’t overly large — yet — but these things can get to be pretty enormous. They’ll even prey on deer and other medium-sized game. Adult dragons will even make a meal out of younger ones if they’ve a mind to. By far the most interesting thing about these animals is the fact that they can reproduce without the need for males to be involved. Scientists have discovered non-fertilized eggs (no males around at all) that later hatched. It’s the stuff of science fiction.
Whether you’re young, young-at-heart or have young’uns, a trip to the zoo is one of the best ways to spend a summer day. I’m looking forward to a return visit someday — work is continuing on a new pavilion and habitat for the lions and some of the other animals. From the looks of things, Knoxville’s zoo is only going to continue to improve in the years ahead.