7. Bronx Zoo
SIZE: 4,427 animals on 265 acres
- Features a year-old "Tiger Mountain" exhibit, a 3-acre re-creation of Amur Valley on the border of Russia and China with dramatic views of Siberian tigers; kids can test their strength against a tiger's by pulling a spring-loaded ball
- Shows animal-theme plays from April to October at the children's theater in its 3-acre children's zoo
- Operates a Skyfari that transports visitors across the park
- Will host Kids' Zoodays on July 31 and August 1; children will learn about the toys that animals play with and take part in a scavenger hunt
This year, the Bronx Zoo marks the 75th anniversary of its educational programs. The first zoo in the world to teach students, Bronx remains the leader in the field, offering 30 courses for preschoolers to 12th-graders. Its teaching materials have been translated into Chinese, Spanish, and African languages, and its curriculum is used in every state and 15 nations. "Our zoo is a living classroom," says Richard Lattis, general director. "Children are constant fountains of knowledge who are going to keep adults headed toward saving wildlife."
The zoo's programs are divided into school or children's group visits, summer camps, and family outings. Pablo Python Looks at Animals is one of the most popular day camps -- a weeklong adventure for 5- to 7-year-olds. "It introduces kids to animal sizes, shapes, colors, patterns, textures, sounds, locomotion, and diet," says Lattis. "They can explore the tiger exhibit, go on a safari, and do Animal Aerobics as they sing with Pablo."
Other unique classes: Baby's First Year, where 5- to 7-year-olds help a baby tortoise celebrate its first birthday, learn the "Bullfrog Baby" song, and complete a My First Year baby book; and Daddy and Me or Mommy and Me, two-hour parent-accompanied excursions for 4- to 8-year-olds that focus on the zoo's animal moms and dads and end with a craft-making session (a mobile for fathers and a bird's nest for mothers).
For tourists who don't have time to schedule an educational session, the zoo has recently installed computers in many of the exhibits to provide additional information. In the "Congo Gorilla Forest," 21 learning bays allow visitors to try new technology, including thermal imaging, biotelemetry, and other sophisticated devices that are used to study animals. The exhibit -- which hammers home the consequences of the destruction of the rainforest -- is so powerful that it persuaded the president of Congo to declare a pristine section of his country's rainforest, which had been scheduled for logging, a wildlife preserve.
Contact information: 718-367-1010; www.bronxzoo.com