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Travel


Spring is a good time to visit Milwaukee County Zoo

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Published:

Story by Nancy Herrick

To everything there is a season. The Bible wrote about it, the Byrds sang about it, and the animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo prove it.

Spring is the season when many species give birth and visitors can watch the youngest — and often cutest — zoo residents take their first tentative steps toward maturity.

“A lot of animals have their babies when the young are most able to survive — especially in climates where the seasons change,” says Tim Wild, large mammal curator at the zoo. “When babies are born in spring there is enough food to eat, enough water to drink and warmer temperatures that just make things easier.”

Polar bears, seals, deer and red pandas are among the mammals who give birth in spring. Penguins do, too.

“In the wild, that’s when penguins’ food sources are more available, and there is more daylight for hunting and fishing,” says Alex Waier, the zoo’s curator of birds. This spring the zoo is anticipating the birth of a Gentoo penguin in the aviary. An egg has been laid and will hatch after 36 to 40 days.

“Then the parents feed the baby for about two months, and it is such fun to see the little guy frantically letting his parents know he’s hungry,” says Waier. “They look just like a stuffed animal.”

The zoo also is anticipating the arrival of more Red-billed Hornbills, who will be the latest offspring of North America’s only breeding pair. The birds are native to sub-Saharan Africa.

“We don’t exactly know why our pair is so successful at breeding here,” Waier says. “But that’s the thing about birds. They all have their little quirks and preferences.”

While spring offers an opportunity for visitors to see a wide variety of new arrivals, it also is when older members of the animal population shake off the winter doldrums and enjoy basking in the sunlight and fresh air.

“As the weather warms up there are transition weeks where the animals who have been indoors for the winter start to spend longer periods of time outdoors to become acclimated,” Wild says. “When they can finally be outside, they just love it. Many of them are much more active and excited.”

The Milwaukee County Zoo is considered one of the nation’s best. If you haven’t been to the zoo in awhile, there are many things to see for the first time. Among them:

— In July three new lion cubs were born at the zoo and already are a big attraction. The cubs — two males and a female — are the first litter of lion cubs at the zoo since 1974. They will be making their outdoor debut this spring.

— A new polar bear named Wilhelm is visiting from the North Carolina Zoo and is on outdoor exhibit. Willie will stay in Milwaukee until 2013 while his quarters in Asheboro, N.C., are being renovated.

— Three members of the African antelope family will be introduced to zoo visitors this spring. Two new bongos have arrived from a zoo in Florida and a kudu has come from the Indianapolis zoo.

— In 2011, the zoo opened a new outdoor public exhibit area for its bonobo population that includes some 500 feet of elevated mesh passageways. The exhibit was designed to resemble the bonobos’ native habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa.

— Two new robotic dinosaurs will join the popular Adventure Dinosaur exhibit. The new stegosaurus and brachiosaurus will join the 20 life-size re-creations starting May 26 through Sept. 3. An additional fee of $2.50 per person is charged for this exhibit.

— The popular seal and sea lion show will reopen when weather permits in April. An additional $2.50 fee also is charged.

In addition, several special events are planned for spring:

A Behind the Scenes Weekend is planned March 10 and 11, where visitors can see areas of the zoo not usually open to the public.

Breakfast and lunch with the Easter Bunny are planned March 31 and April 1. Reservations are required. Go to www.milwaukeezoo.org.

Egg Day on April 7 includes Easter festivities and a parade led by the Easter Bunny.

Mother’s Day on May 13 offers free admission for all mothers.

Party for the Planet on May 19 and 20 offers animal talks, outreach booths and demonstrations about environmental awareness and being green.

Family Free Days will be held March 3, April 14, Nov. 3 and Dec. 1. Admission is free; parking fee of $12 per car will still be charged.

The Milwaukee County Zoo is at 10001 W. Blue Mound Road. Its website is www.milwaukeezoo.org.

Spring hours for the Zoo, from March 1 through May 25, are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. From May 26 though Sept. 3 the hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Admission fees from April 1 through Oct. 31 are $14.25 for adults, $8.75 for children ages 3 to 12 and free for children 2 and younger. Senior citizens 60 and older are admitted for $13.25. Milwaukee County residents with I.D. receive $1.75 off regular zoo admission every day. Every Wednesday, Milwaukee County residents with I.D. are admitted at a reduced rate of $8 for adults and $5.50 for children (age 3 to 12).

Parking costs $12, though if you arrive early in the day there is some street parking. You also can park elsewhere in the Milwaukee area and take a county bus to the zoo. For route information, go to www.ridemcts.com.

If you plan to visit the zoo several times during the year, consider buying a ZooPass through the Zoological Society (www.zoosociety.org), which can pay for itself in just two trips to the zoo in a year (depending on the type of membership). Upgrading to a Zoo Pass Plus includes parking.