Having been to a couple fine zoos relatively recently in the Columbus Zoo and the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington DC, we were tempering our expectations a bit. However, the Detroit Zoo, established in 1928 and currently run by the Detroit Zoological Society. was the very first zoo in the nation to display animals in cage-less exhibits, and ended up packing quite a punch in terms of the animals and exhibits in what seemed to an easily navigable layout.
The zoo had its share of the "usual" animals like lions and tigers, but I personally was happy to see a few that I hadn't seen on other zoo visits like the Japanese Macaque monkeys (who came out just as we were passing by their habitat) and a heard of Bactrian Camels, which had recently welcomed a newcomer into their herd a couple months ago.
Perhaps the most impressive facility inside the Detroit Zoo lies in the form of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, which sports an angular architectural exterior to the public.
Holding 33,000 square feet of space, the Center features more than 80 penguins of four different species and plenty of unique vantage points to view these popular creatures. The aquarium, which is 25 feet deep and holds 325,000 gallons of water, does a pretty good job of mimicking a rocky Antarctic coastline.
One of those vantage points comes from inside a glass tube gives you a below-the-surface view of these creatures as they torpedo through the water.
Throughout the building, displays featuring the journeys of Antarctica explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. While he was not the first to set foot on the South Pole, his journeys through this frozen land have earned him elevated historical status as time has gone, particularly his 1914 journey to cross the continent via the South Pole, in which Shackleton and his men survived a ship sinking and long stretches of being stranded in this icy land without one single individual perishing.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the facility lies in their 4-D interactive ship sailing experience that is meant to evoke what life was like on board Endurance, the ship that took Shackleton and his crew on that quest to cross Antarctica on foot via the South Pole. A projection mapper on this room's four walls and some creative set building (including recycled barn wood and actual water misters) puts forth a potent experience, rotating from calm evening skies to iceberg calving scenes to fierce, rollicking gales. The feeling of being on the water is real enough such that those who suffer from seasickness may feel a little queasy while descending the ramps.
With the "Zoo Boo" festivities cutting down visiting hours for this day, we missed out on things like the Australian Outback Adventure area (which allows visitors to more-or-less get face to face with a mob of kangaroos and a couple of wallabies) and the Holden Reptile Conservation Center (a total of 240 reptiles representing over 80 species), but that just shows there's a lot more to this zoo than one might gather at first glance.
The Detroit Zoo
8450 W 10 Mile Rd. (Google Maps)
Royal Oak, MI 48067
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