How do you teach your children to respect and protect the animal kingdom and to do their part to live harmoniously with creatures big and small? A visit to an AZA accredited zoo is always a great start. We partnered (via sponsorship) with Nashville Zoo at Grassmere to see how they have transformed their nearly 200 acres of land just six miles from Downtown Nashville to a contemporary destination that promotes education, animal-themed family fun, and conservation. Here are five reasons we think this zoo lands a spot as one of the premiere kid-friendly destinations in Music City:
1. Modern Approach to Animal Exhibition
Gone are the days of sterile concrete cells as reputable zoos across the world are working hard to move toward more natural habitats and space for living and playing for the animals. You can see the New Andean Bear Exhibit has embraced this concept well while highlighting other animal species important to the Andean region like guinea pigs and the world’s smallest deer (the pudu).
We enjoyed the Andean music playing throughout the exhibition space, as well as the air-conditioned viewing area. Being able to see and interact with Luka, the zoo’s fun-loving female Andean bear, through reinforced glass was a truly interactive experience for my four-year-old. We were able to see Luka dance and jump in the water - it brought giggles all around. We left awestruck by the intelligence and immense personality of this lovely bear.
Other animal exhibition highlights: discovering creepy crawly creatures like the Trinidad giant cockroaches, short-tailed leaf-nosed bats, and rhinoceros iguanas in the exhibit: Unseen New World: Creatures of the Americas, crawling inside the world of the meerkats, talking to the playful hyacinth macaws, marveling at the rhinoceros, and watching the gibbons interact with their friends, family and surroundings.
2. Experiential Interactions with Animals
This was a big hit with my four year old. Any time he can interact directly with an animal at a zoo, it heightens his sense of adventure and strengthens his ability to connect with the animal kingdom. Nashville Zoo offered three excellently-presented one-on-one animal interactions.
- Lorikeet Landing. Purchase some cups of nectar and head in to the 2,400 square foot aviary. Your little one can feed the more than 50 friendly birds, so loving in fact, that many will hang out on your arm or shoulder while nibbling it up. TEACHES: Trust and bonding with an animal.
- Kangaroo Kickabout. You get to observe 18 free-roaming kangaroos up close and personal. Interaction isn’t always guaranteed but if you are lucky enough to have one of them cross your path you may gently rub their back. Even without getting to touch, the proximity alone will make you feel honored to be so close to these beautiful creatures. TEACHES: Respect for an animal in their environment.
- Shell Station. Purchase a bunch of lettuce and feed one or more of the ten Saharan Desert Tortoises between the ages of three and five years old that call this area home. Their slow movement won’t overwhelm younger children who might otherwise be hesitant to try. All ages are invited to gently pet their shell. TEACHES: All living things have basic needs to survive.
3. Commitment to Clean Eating
We had the opportunity to sit down with Executive Chef Donovan Pritchard and General Manager Tony Smith to discuss how healthy eating is a focus. They have prioritized upping the on-site dining experience by committing to excellence in food and ambiance.
The Zoofari Café is located near Gibbon Islands and serves as the primary sit down dining location for the entire zoo. The menu is a creative mixture of gourmet comfort food like artfully prepared burgers (think Farm Burger or Burger Up) and healthy salads without forgetting its primary clientele: kids. Meaning, that although you can find your typical kid staples like pizza, chicken fingers, and mac and cheese, you don’t have to sacrifice your health or taste buds while dining here.
I found this particularly true for those of us who live with dietary concerns. Executive Chef Pritchard rolled out allergen specific menus for Summer 2018 that focus on those patrons looking for vegan, vegetarian and gluten free dining options. But, for him, it is more than just appealing to a trend. He and his own family follow clean eating practices and actually keep a gluten free household. Plus, he and the rest of his staff are ServSafe Certified putting allergen education and food safety first. Read more by heading to the full review of the Zoofari Cafe.
For those kids that may not have the stamina to walk long distances in the heat or the patience to wait near an exhibition space to catch a glimpse of an animal, there are plenty of safari themed attractions to keep the kiddos entertained.
- Rides. My four-year-old fell in love with the Wild Animal Carousel. There’s also the Wilderness Express Train for the younger crowd and the Soaring Eagle Zip Line if you have slightly older kids. All of these attractions require additional tickets to enjoy. Luckily, token stations are strategically placed at each individual site. So, if your kid must ride the carousel 4 times in a row (like mine), you can be sure to buy exactly the right amount of tokens as you go.
- Play Space. Head to the Jungle Gym to let them act out their own safari adventure. With plenty of neat spaces to climb and explore, this large structure will be a hit with kids of any age.
- Live Shows & Tours. The Amphitheater hosts live animal shows twice a day. You can even buy a Backstage Pass to learn more about animal behavior, care and conservation starting at $40pp.
5. Commitment to Conservation
Kid Allergy Travel loves a zoo like this one in Nashville that is involved in strengthening threatened populations, supporting research, pioneering care and sustaining species. Highlights include:
- Leading the charge for the vulnerable Giant Anteater. The zoo has been leading nutritional research to write the book in care for this species. They are currently publishing husbandry guidelines plus outlining veterinary issues in conjunction with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Program.
- Being the first zoo to successfully create a captive breeding program for a vulnerable aquatic salamander, the Eastern Hellbender. This program also wins first for successfully using controlled breeding biotechnology in conservation efforts for this species.
- Contributing to the native population growth of the Puerto Rican Crested Toad. The only toad native to the island of Puerto Rico, this animal was once believed to be extinct. To date, the Nashville Zoo has produced and shipped over 10,000 tadpoles for release in their native habitat to connect conservation efforts to the survival of this species in the wild. And, in an effort to ensure that no exotic pathogens infiltrate the native environment, all toads being shipped for release are held in a bio-safe secure off-exhibit location of the zoo in Nashville.