I love zoos. Maybe it’s because they somehow remind me of home, or maybe it’s just because I enjoy the little escape from local reality they can provide. While surrounded by the urban jungle of Knoxville, Tennessee, it was nice to be whisked away on an African safari for just a little while. The Knoxville Zoo certainly provided that opportunity in all the excitement and comfort a zoo can provide.
I have always loved zoos. The opportunity to see exotic animals from around the world is just about one of the greatest escapes a person can experience. I mean, yeah, sure, it would be an even better escape to go on an actual African safari, but I don’t have a few thousand dollars to pump into one of those. So, I’m left with zoos.
I handed over $20 and walked through that gate, feeling the magic tingling against my arms. Wait, that’s Disney World. But I swear I still felt as though the air were fresher and more exhilarating on the other side of that gate. I will admit, and have always admitted, I have a bonus as a solo traveler: I only have to pay for myself. But I come from a family with two younger siblings and both parents, so I understand a trip like this, when I was 16, would have cost my family $85. That’s a lot of money to hand over for a few hours of entertainment, especially when you pay $5 for parking and grab lunch, maybe even dinner. But I can say this: I think it’s worth it.
From the moment I walked through the entrance until the moment I exited through the gift shop, the zoo was clean, exciting, entertaining, comfortable, and instructional. The staff was very friendly and knowledgeable about the animals. I met a woman at the zebra enclosure who worked at the zoo as a volunteer. She had been reading a massive manual handed out to all zoo employees, even the freebies, so they could learn about the animals and answer questions. She admitted when her knowledge was limited, but the fact she was a volunteer and had bothered to read it at all told me the staff was pretty dedicated at all levels.
The paths are wide, paved, comfortable. Plenty of benches and chairs, umbrellas for shade, lots of places to kick back and relax. Several areas like Black Bear Falls, Birds of Central America, and the Giraffe Encounter are covered areas that will give you (and the kiddos) a break from the beating summer sun.
It was hard for me to sit down and write about my favorite places at the zoo. First of all, I had so many! Secondly, I didn’t get to see the entire zoo. Despite having a map and a guide (that volunteer followed me around for about 30 minutes, though we were both certain it was just coincidence!) I got a little turned around and missed the area with the turtles, reptiles, and komodo dragon. Doh! However, I’ll still point out a few things I particularly loved about this zoo.
The first was the dancing elephants. I mean I could have stood there all day just watching them dance. One of the zoo staffers told me it’s not actually a dance at all, but rather an example of stereotypic behavior. Basically, the elephants are bored. Wild elephants face a constant struggle for survival searching for water, food, and fighting off predators. But in a zoo, elephants have everything catered to them. So they begin a dance, shuffling their feet, swaying side-to-side and front-to-back, and bobbing their heads as a way to occupy their minds. It’s not exactly a bad behavior, but it’s not exactly a good one either. Whichever side of the coin this falls on (entirely depends on who you talk to) I think the dancing is a beautiful thing that I could have watched all day.
Right next to the Elephant Preserve is the Giraffe Encounter. This large, covered, elevated viewing platform allowed visitors to get up close to a giraffe and feed them throughout the day (photo at top). But you have got to watch out for their 18″ long tongues! I watched this one little girl happily take a handful of lettuce but she was too nervous and shy to actually feed the giraffe. So, without any warning, the giraffe’s tongue lashed out a foot and a half and snagged it right out of her hand! It was actually rather awesome to watch.
If you walk around behind the Meerkat Lookout you’ll find a path that continues along the backside of the Zebra enclosure and up to the red wolves. This is a very shaded path, quite a bit secluded from all the noises in the middle of the zoo, and a nice escape within an escape. This path leads back around to the park entrance where you can leave, or hang a right to view the areas I missed!
The Knoxville Zoo certainly has enough to keep children and adults alike entertained, and is certainly worth the price of admission. Come prepared for the day (sunscreen, bathing suits, money for food and water) and you’ll enjoy it. If you ever happen to see a gorilla trapped inside a cage holding a Nikon camera…hey that’s probably me!