When a person generally thinks of a zoo, they think of animals displayed in fancy enclosures and a wealth of resources poured into the facility, either by private, corporate or even government donations and subsidies. Visiting the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park is just the opposite. This is an intimate, friendly place where peacocks strut around the paths displaying their brilliant fanned feathers and where feeders play with the wallabies to the delight of children and adults alike. Children from neighborhood schools and those from around the state visit regularly, and teachers are given excellent resources online to help them prepare lesson plans.
Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park
1775 N. Rancho Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89106
Although the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park (as it is officially known) boasts three acres, including a reptile house and a special area housing fossas, Madagascar’s largest predators, you would never know it was so large. When you drive up, the first thing you see is a painted, nondescript white fence, but as you enter the zoo itself, it’s like entering another world. Large bamboos and indigenous trees provide shade as you stroll the pathways. The winding design gives you an air of privacy for the various displays, whether you prefer the endangered large cats, the Barbary apes, chimpanzees, emus and ostriches, talking parrots and flamingos or the wallabies.
The wallabies are one of the main highlights at the zoo. There’s a large group of these friendly critters that seem as fascinated by the visitors as guests are by the small kangaroo-type animals. It’s not unusual for their keeper, or feeder, to play with them and you can see the affection in action if you are lucky enough to be there at the right time.
One of the most obvious (and eye-catching) sights is the preening male peacock, distinguishable by its impressive plumage. There are usually two or more strutting around the pathways, calling if you get too close. The best thing about this zoo is the ability to get up close and personal with its residents and feel as though you, as well as they, belong there.
The zoo has many complementary but contrasting displays. There is an river otter area where you can sometimes watch them swim around and play, but there is also a special watery grotto where the crocodiles lurk in the shadows. The otters are especially active during the warmer months, and the glass enclosure to their playground allows you watch them in their natural habitat: under the water.
The resident lion is literally close enough to touch, as he lies in the shade or pants as he walks. He’s a bit lonely now that his mate has passed away, but he seems to enjoy being talked to when you pause beside his cage. The male Barbary ape is not as friendly. He bares his teeth at you in a show of male dominance. He’s been removed from the rest of the family because of his aggression and is fascinating to watch.
It’s a short trip around the “world” to the emus and ostriches wandering their enclosures. They are a bit camera shy, but are interesting to watch as they stroll around at their own pace. Somehow, although they are ungainly birds, there’s something just a bit regal about them, too.
The gift shop has all sorts of animal-related items, from souvenirs to stuffed animals to toys. If you want to keep a memory of your visit, take lots of photos and buy the kids something small. All proceeds benefit the zoo. This may not be the biggest zoo around, and it may not even be the best, but it’s Las Vegas’ own attraction and could certainly use your help to keep it running. You can also sponsor an animal, which many school children do through their classroom.
With the zoo being open on a daily basis, you have your choice of prime times to visit. During the summer, first thing in the morning is the most comfortable time to wander around, but in fall and winter, with the cool winds, you will prefer the afternoons. Some displays are only open during the summer, for the sake of the health of the animals, but there is always enough to keep even the oldest kid occupied.
Sharon Damon is a preschool specialist, avid reader, passionate writer and creative baker/ cook. She has been a cooking instructor at a local Rec Center in Henderson, NV since 2011, and has written for Examiner and other publications since 2010. She knows her way around the keyboard and the kitchen! Sharon moved from a small city in Canada to Las Vegas 6 years ago, to marry the love of her life, and has since been swept up in the whirlwind known as Sin City. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.