Behind the Scenes at ZooAmerica
I had the opportunity to do a behind the scenes tour of ZooAmerica while staying in Hershey on the media tour. I was excited about this trip as I love going to zoos, of any size. So, a specialty tour was right up my alley.
ZooAmerica is an 11-acre, walk-through zoo. It’s home to more than 200 animals representing more than 60 species from five regions of North America. Admission to ZooAmerica is included in your ticket to HersheyPark, so you should totally check it out on your next trip. If you are not going to the amusement park, and only want to visit the Zoo; no problem, Zoo only admission is affordable, and season passes are also available.
ZooAmerica offers two *behind the scenes* tours, the Wake up with the Early Bird Tour, and the After-Hours Tour. Both offer amazing experiences, including semi-private tours and feeding opportunities. Both tours are available for guests 3 and older, and cost $49 per person (as of April 2016). Ten guests can be accommodated on each tour, and are held on Wednesday and Saturday, year round. The price is well worth it for the experience that you get.
Our time at ZooAmerica started after the park had already closed for the night, with the After-Hours tour. Our first stop was in the education room and that’s where we met the Rufus the Screech Owl. We all had the chance to hold the Rufus; it’s amazing how beautiful these animals are, and up close it took my breath away.
Rufus came from a rehabilitation facility. He was taken in as an injured animal and it was determined that he was unable to return to the wild. The facility determined that Rufus could be used to help the staff at ZooAmerica with educational programs. He plays a vital part of the program and she’s an example of how ZooAmerica is helping with conservation efforts. ZooAmerica works with rehabilitation facilities to obtain animals that would be beneficial in a teaching environment. In addition to the behind the scenes tours, the Zoo also offers a variety of educational programs, from school trips, camps, tours, etc.
While in the education room, we also met two alligators, a baby and a youth. It was amazing to find out that an alligator can grow a foot a year in the first few years! Talk about growth spurts. Also found it fascinating that in a lifetime, alligators can have between 2-3000 teeth. They are constantly falling out and are quickly replaced. I can’t say the same for my jack-o-lantern kids. At one time, ZooAmerica actually had 2 albino alligators, which at the time was the most in the world.
By the time we left the education room, it was dark out and we all used flashlights to find our way around. Let me tell you – it is really cool to be walking around a zoo with nothing but flashlights to find your way around. The before and after tours offer different sections of the zoo on the tour, so it would be fun to do both!
Part of the After-Hours Tour includes animal feeding, and our first stop was to the otters. The otters just know they are gonna be fed (little fish popsicles) and they are just waiting for you to throw some their way.
While walking through the zoo, the guides were able to tell us little stories about the animals that we encountered. Some stories were how the animals came to reside at the zoo, animal relations within a species (brother, sister, etc), or even personality traits of the animals. The guides really know a lot and care deeply about these animals.
We made our way through sections of the zoo, including the bobcats, otters, bat house, snakes, american alligators, road runners, tortoises, the list goes on and on. We made a stop at the medical building and kitchen. Since ZooAmerica is part of HersheyPark, and The Official Resorts of HersheyPark, usable food waste is sent to the zoo for animal meals. This could be fruits and vegetables, or even pieces of salmon. Great way to cut down on waste, and on expenses at the same time.
Our last stop on the tour, was to visit with the bears. We were able to meet three bears, up close and personal. Wow, these guys are BIG. Two of the bears are a brother and sister pair from West Virginia. They were rescued from a basement of a person who kept them as pets. The bears, as do all wild animals, outgrew the basement and were starting to cause issues for the owners. At that time, ZooAmerica was contacted about taking the animals. We were able to interact with the bears, behind a large cage of course. The bears were trained to do certain acts, acts that would make it easier to medical treatments or routine care. Tricks like “show me your paw”, or “open wide” are fun to see, but used correctly also allow zoo staff to check for paw injuries, or even mouth issues. We were able to feed the bears grapes, attached to long wooden sticks. For as big as the bears are, they were pretty excited about the tiny grapes. I know they are well fed, so the grapes are just a little sweet snack.
I had an amazing time during the ZooAmerica After Dark tour. We learned so much about all the different animals there and was great to get up close and personal with some of the animals. I can’t wait to schedule my next visit.