Field Trip: Feel the (Animal) Love at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Well, hello there fella! Mugging for the camera…what a gorgeous animal. Check out those eyelashes. And very sweet natured too.

Back in March my family took a trip to Riverbanks Zoo, which is located in my hometown of Columbia, SC. I’ve spent many a fun morning or afternoon at this wonderful park but I’ll admit it’s been awhile since my last visit – at least 12 years. And while I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, I hoped the experience would be as fun and educational for my 4-year old as it was for me when I was a kid. Needless to say my expectations were exceeded.

Hello Mr. Meerkat!

It should be known that I am an “animal person” in that I am enamored of most all-living creatures. My exceptions are parasites and snakes, although I appreciate them nonetheless. When my child was born I anticipated that she would carry on this trait but one never knows. While my husband does like animals, he does not share my fascination to the same extent, i.e. when I talk longingly of having a mini farm with chickens, a couple of Nubian goats and maybe a horse or two, he rolls his eyes and moves his head back and forth. Not a good sign.

Feeding the giraffes. I don’t know who was more excited my daughter, or me!

So we keep the peace with animal–centric field trips (while providing a learning experience for our daughter). From state-run petting zoos in Alabama to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the ‘ginormous’ Cleveland Zoo we’ve been fortunate to visit some outstanding parks and farms. Fairly close-in to our town are the South Carolina Aquarium and the Middleton Gardens (they have a wonderful colonial-era inspired farmstead), both located in Charleston, SC. Hope to arrange a visit to both this year.

Besides the giraffes, my daughter’s favorite of the day were the flamingos.

Getting back to Riverbanks… This park has grown substantially but is still considered mid-sized which is a great thing I believe, after my recent visit. We arrived early, right after opening time on a Saturday, strolling in straight away through the main gate, touring the exhibits at a leisurely pace, breaking for lunch and finishing up shortly thereafter. As we were leaving we noticed that a substantial line had formed under the warm Carolina sun. We were pleased not to be in that line (but happy the park was busy!)

Taking a decent shot of a penguin is tough. They are so very quick! I barely got a shot of this dude (or dudedress…not sure)

Since the zoo opened in 1974 care has been taken to not “over do it” as we say here in the South. This means that growth has been gradual with the science of caring for the animals and their wellbeing placed ahead of everything else.

I’ll pick the tortoise over the hare any day!

The park has expanded and now includes the Riverbanks Farm, Aquarium Reptile Complex and beautiful botanical gardens that are the envy – and the inspiration – of every master gardener from Greenville to Charleston. There are also a myriad of educational facilities including a 3-D Action Theater, Raptor Clinic and many, many activities geared toward children including camps and school programs.

This is Chaka, the oldest male gorilla. He was very active on this morning.

The park was one of the nation’s first to use realistic non-cage enclosure designs for its exhibits. It has won many awards for everything from its design and architecture to its breeding and conservation programs.

No shirt, no shoes, no problem…I think this is Mike. He looks, and acts, pretty happy to me:)

As you can tell, Riverbanks holds a special place in my heart and I am proud to say that my Mother (who lives in Columbia) has been a supporter and member of the zoo practically since its inception. So, I suppose I get my affinity for all creatures great and small honestly, and I would not want it any other way.

Maybe Hubby will go for the henhouse… if I ask for a Llama first? Insert yield sign here! My feeble attempt at reverse psychology in progress…now where’s that website for The Araucana Club of America?

Okay last shot…baby giraffe eating. I could not resist…my favorite animal-only pic of the day.

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