Standing outside the front gate at 8:55am with a pair of families wrangling youngsters, it was only natural to head in the opposite direction beyond the admission gate for processing my only priority of the day. As a tyke, the Tulsa Zoo was a rare treat. More than 35 years later, I was looking to rekindle memories from my first zoo experiences.
In the age when concepts of confined animals are becoming more controversial, the Tulsa Zoo is straddling the fence keeping up with modifications. Nowhere was this more evident than when trying to view elephants beyond three levels of barricades, compared to the mid-60's, when the thrill was finding them at moat's edge, extending trunks for snatching peanuts from viewers' hands. Otherwise, what would be presumed as some of the hardest animals to maintain were still in outdated yards, especially the bears and jungle cats housed in fake bluffs with small cages and minimal courtyards.
Zookeepers were running behind on their morning check-ups and feedings before turning animals out to begin rituals of waking up. Elongated stretches and yawns commanded the spring morning. While king of the jungle immediately went to pacing, most animals had the right idea lazily indulging favored sunny spots.
The zoo had several newer groupings, including the North American Living Museum with four linked-display houses featuring wildlife from lowlands, forest, desert, and tundra regions. The Tropical American Rainforest left me wanting more with bird, fish, and small mammal exhibits set within a humid jungle that fogged camera lenses and had me sweating by the time I exited. Otherwise, monkeys were still half asleep in the new Chimpanzee Connection, and even playful sea lions, navigating the old pool clearly remembered, appeared to be resting up for the daily 2:30pm performance.
Maps distributed with admission suggest a much bigger park than what's actually found. Corporate sponsors, such as American Airlines and Bank of America, have endorsed separate centers where zoo-related seminars and demonstrations are held. Parents looking for hands-on opportunity with their children will find more educative resources scattered throughout the park than animals, perhaps signs from a zoo of the future that still serves a conscious purpose.
All newer sections come with information stations, interactive displays, and related exhibits that combine the best of museum and zoo qualities. The one inside the elephant center is not to be missed. An interesting African tribal village, recreated next to the giraffe compound, turned out to be more than I expected, with cultural displays and sound affects. There's no shortage of gift shops, places to eat, restrooms, and all that caters to family entertainment, including a large playground and train encircling the grounds.
By time I left 2 hours later, the zoo had proven to be a popular draw on weekend mornings, visitors as diverse as the animals they came to see. The Tulsa Zoo is easily found off north Sheridan Road, beyond the airport, where it dead ends into Mohawk Park. Take a right and follow the signs.