When the 22 zookeepers at the Palm Beach Zoo count their blessings,they count a job they love at the top of the list.
Every day, more than 100 employees (and twice as many volunteers)work together to satisfy the needs of 1,283 animals. Then theyinvite us in to see what they do and to learn about conservation,the zoo's primary purpose.
On Fridays, the zoo stays open late for Safari Nights and nearly1,000 people come out from 5 to 9 p.m. to talk to the zookeepersand see a variety of animals up close.
Melissa Dolinsky, a zoo keeper and gifted bird trainer, trained twohelmeted guineafowl for the Wild Things Show, which is performeddaily in a tiny amphitheater. It wasn't easy. It took Dolinsky, whohas worked for the zoo for 6 1/2 years, six months to teach theguineafowl their comedic trick, which involves running from oneenclosure to another to earn a treat. Dolinsky pretends the birdsare lost and asks the audience for help. The whole trick lasts onlya couple of minutes.
"I feel silly," Dolinsky said of her acting duties, "because I'mreally serious, but the kids love it. And I love what I do becauseevery day is different."
Here are 10 reasons to visit to Safari Nights at the Palm Beach Zoobefore it ends on Sept. 27:
The Wild Things Show And The Wings Over Water (Wow!) Show
The "Wild Things Show" features furry, feathered and scaly animalsteaching a conservation message at 11 a.m. weekdays, and noonweekends, and around 7:15 p.m. during Safari Nights.
The Wings Over Water (WOW!) show features trained birds infree- flight at 2 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends.During Safari Nights, the Wings show takes place at 6:15 p.m.
The big cats
The tigers are one of the most popular exhibits, and Tiger Talksare offered at 6:45 p.m. during Safari Nights. Visitors can learnmore about this critically endangered cat.
The interactive fountain
Kids love playing in the fountain, which has quickly become kids'favorite reason to visit the zoo. The colored lights make thefountain especially beautiful as the sun sets. Changing tents arelocated just a few feet away. The fountain closes at 4:30 p.m.daily, but stays open late during Safari Nights.
Free carousel rides
With 30 ornately carved and painted "animals" to ride, from amanatee to a hummingbird and a jaguar to a dragon, your child mightwant to ride every one. They can! Rides usually cost $2 with allproceeds benefiting the Zoo's animals, but they are free duringSafari Nights.
Other Must-See Animals
Osceola and Micco, ambassadors of Florida panthers.
Oscito, the zoo's best dad, and his boys Mato and Perrito. Born inJanuary, these bush dog brothers lost their mother, Mediana, tocancer shortly after they were weaned.
The New Guinea Singing Dogs: Mick and Sydney are brother and sisterpurebred Singing Dogs, which makes them very rare.
Mardi the white alligator, one of only a dozen in captivity. Mardiis pure white with blue eyes, and you might even think he's fake... until he moves. Mardi is leucistic, which means he has reducedpigmentation.
Wilbur, the two-toed sloth. First, Wilbur is a girl. Second, slothsspend most of their time upside down, so their organs are upsidedown too, which makes them right side up when she's upside down.Got it?
Have lunch with a wild view
On stilts above Baker Lake, the Tropics Cafe is a pleasant hideawayoffering full-service dining and air-conditioning! Seating is from10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the cafe stays open until 9 p.m. on SafariNights.
The costumed characters
For some kids, interacting with a live animal can be a littlescary, so you'll see costumed characters walking around the park toput the littlest visitors at ease. Timmy the Tiger has some newfriends: Kiwi the Koala and Speedy the Sea Turtle.
Fun events all year
The zoo offers dozens of events each year, from Breakfast with theBunny, its Easter celebration, to Brew at the Zoo, the craft beerfestival the zoo hosted in April. Coming soon: The second FoodTruck Safari, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 31. $9 for members and $10 fornon-members.
Memberships are a bargain
Annual memberships pay for themselves in just a few visits: Seniorindividual, $65; Individual Plus, $75; Family/Grandparent, $125.
Did you know you can:
Get married at the zoo, with a zoo animal in attendance? Sleepovernight inside the zoo just feet from the cougar pen? Volunteerto prune and weed the foliage, or in the commissary preparinganimals' meals, or as part of the clerical staff or as a greeter.
email@example.com Twitter: @janisfontaine
IF YOU GO
The Palm Beach Zoo
Where: 1301 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last ticket sold at 4:15 p.m.) every dayexcept Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Safari Nights: 5 to 9 p.m.Fridays through Sept. 27.
Admission: $18.95 adults, $16.95 seniors age 60+, $12.95 age 3- 12;free for members and younger than age 3. Safari Nights: $15.95adults, $9.95 age 3 to 12, free for members and younger than 2.Aug. 30, for a special Back-to-School-themed Safari Nights, kidsget in for $5 if they bring an approved school supply for a Title Ischool. (Find the list at www.palmbeachzoo.org.)
Info: 561-547-9453; www.palmbeachzoo.org
Check out photo-journalist Taylor Jones' video of the birds and herinterview with Melissa Dolinsky (left) at palmbeachpost.com.
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