HUMAN INTEREST STORIES

AROUND THE STATE: ANIMAL FUN FOR THE FAMILY

by Jeanni Ritchie

I love animals! Ever since I pulled the lever on my first Fisher Price See and Say, I’ve been fascinated with the sights and sounds of animals.

Trips to the Alexandria Zoo were a weekly outing as a toddler and continued when I became a mother myself. But there were other zoo visits as well, from Nashville to New Orleans, Corpus Christie to Jackson. I still make a point to visit a zoo in every town I visit that has one.

But zoos weren’t my only experience with animals. My grandfather had a camp in Hammond on some farm land. I remember the first time I saw a calf being born while walking to the fishing dock with him. I rode horses on my friend Stephanie’s farm. I went on many field trips, both as student and as teacher, to farms across Louisiana.

And who can forget the petting zoos at festivals and carnivals? I’ve gotten up close and personal with cows, goats, camels, donkeys, and lambs.

Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright once noted the significance of interacting with nature. “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. “

The conveniences of modern technology are beneficial but they shouldn’t come at the expense of isolating from nature and the outdoors.

Opportunities abound across the state for families to enjoy animals in various habitats. It is a way to bound with your family in fun and educational outings that remind us of the magnificence of creation.

The Alexandria Zoo, in Central Louisiana, has annual memberships which pay for themselves in just a couple of visits. Not only does your membership fund local growth at the zoo, it gives you free or discounted admission at reciprocal zoos across the country. It can easily become a fun activity to add to your budget-friendly family vacation across the country.

They also have half-day Summer Safari camps for kids in June and July. Age-groupings and different themes for each camp offer a plethora of opportunities. For more information email zoo.education@cityofalex.com.

Ol’ Mel’s Farm in Deville is having two full-day Farm Summer Daycamps June 10-14 and July 8-12.  With farm animals, fishing, horse rides, games, and arts and crafts, it seems like an adventure of a lifetime!

If you can’t make it to the summer camp but still want to experience the farm animals, Ol Mel’s has petting zoos at various events throughout the year, including birthday parties and festivals. For the next public event or to book a private experience, call 318-794-9533. They also have an Airbnb rental for families wanting to experience farm life for a night or two. Stay, feed animals at your leisure, tour the property, ride horses, have a picnic, and play outdoor games.

Gone Wild Safari in Pineville is another incredible experience to get up close and personal with animal life. Not only do you see but you get to feed exotic animals in this amazing wildlife preserve. A recent trip found me talking animatedly to kindergartners and giraffes alike. With over 150 exotic animals on site, it’s a must-see attraction in Central Louisiana. Special summer offerings are available, call 318-787-6902.

In addition to the drive-through safari, they also offer a playground, party room, and petting zoo. Open 7 days a week, weather permitting, this is a trip worth taking.

Other animal fun experiences across Louisiana include:

Audubon Zoo, 6500 Magazine St. New Orleans. Cool Zoo Water Park, Historical Sea Lion Pool, Wild Animal Encounters, Free flight aviary. Call 504-861-2537 or visit audubonnatureinstitute.org.

Audubon Aquarium, 1 Canal St. New Orleans. Penguin party, Maya snorkel adventure, Undersea Explorer virtual reality. Call 504-861-2537 or visit audubonnatureinstitute.org.

Barn Hill Preserve, 11342 LA-955, Ethel. Otter swims, encounter tours, kangaroo walkabouts, petting zoo, and sloth feeding. Magnolia Ridge Adventure Park is sister property. Call 225-286-3003 or visit barnhillpreserve.com. Reservations required.

Baton Rouge Zoo, 3601 Thomas Rd, Baton Rouge. Sensory certified facility, Zoo & Me mornings, virtual program curriculum guides, monkey island, safari playground. Call 225-775-3877 or visit brzoo.org.

Blue Zoo Aquarium, 6401 Bluebonnet Blvd Suite 1123, Baton Rouge. Aquatic petting zoo, mermaid and pirate shows. Call 225-230-9222 or visit bluezoo.us.

Gator Country LA Alligator Park, 380 Old Bayou Pierre Rd, Natchitoches. Feeding show, gator photos, wade with gators, feed tortoises. Call 318-354-0106 or visit gatorcountryla.com.

Global Wildlife, 26389 LA-40, Folsom. 900 acres of wildlife. Safari wagon tours, private tours. Call 985-796-3585 or visit globalwildlife.com.

Jubilee Zoo Petting Place and Play Place, 6402 Hwy 1, Shreveport. Safari parties, petting zoo, safari hayrides, zoo-choo train, pony rides. Call 318-929-7387 or visit jubileezoo.com.

Shreveport Aquarium, 601 Clyde Fant Pkwy, Shreveport. Stingray interactive experience, treasure mine, shark talks and feedings, submarine gallery microscope. Call 318-383-0601 or visit Shreveportaquarium.com.

Splendor Farms, 27329 Mill Creek Rd, Bush. Trail rides, arena rides, petting farm, overnight accommodations, fishing. Call 985-867-7176 or visit splendorfarms.com.

Wild Country Safari Park, 8 Hobby Newton Rd, Delhi. Hands-on experience, drive-thru safari, guided tours. Call 318-878-3634 or visit wildcountrysafari.com.

Zoosiana, 5601 Hwy 90 E, Broussard. Petting zoo, safari express train, gem mine, storybook carousel, play area. Call 337-837-4325 or visit zoosiana.com.

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