Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Zoo's later summer nights hit with heat-weary visitors

Walk on wild side: Animals awake, crowds gone

By Karen Andrew
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Luke Barath, 1, left, and his twin brother Max play with baby goats in the Children's Petting Zoo while their parents Glen and Kim watch.
(Leigh Patton photo)
| ZOOM |
Yellowish male "white" lions and blacker-than-midnight bears leave their caves and hiding places to lie out in the cool evening breezes.

The animals are coming out for the evening, the heat is disappearing and lightning bugs are blinking in the darkened woodsy areas.

People are still wandering the pathways of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, calling to and pointing at animals.

But although it's past the original Saturday summer closing hour of 7 p.m., these people aren't breaking the rules.

In July, the zoo began staying open on Friday and Saturday evenings until 9 p.m., with gates closing at 8. One advantage for visitors: After 4 p.m., adults save $4 on the price of admission and $2 off admission for children ages 2-12.

"Because it was a success in July, we've extended the later hours to August," said zoo public relations representative Chad Yelton.

"People are taking advantage of the discounts and cooler weather (in the evenings). There's a lot of activities," Yelton said.

Even though the crowds are smaller in the evenings, attendance is up.

"We track our attendance," said Diane Weber, director of marketing and public relations. "There has been a minimum increase of a 1,000 people coming in late (for both Saturday and Sunday).

"It's very nice to come to the zoo in the evenings. The animals get very active," Weber said.

Jennifer Westmeyer of Withamsville was lounging in one of the outdoor dining areas with her husband, Bruce, and their two young children, Jamie and Brad.

"We've been coming here before in the day," said Mrs. Westmeyer. "But, now that it's nice in the evening, we might come more often (in the evenings)."

Without the larger daytime crowds, "we didn't have to wrestle our way in," she said. "You don't feel like you have to get out of anyone's way. You don't feel guilty about standing at a spot longer."

A "Gorilla Enrichment" program at 6:30 is among the evening activities.

"The keepers feed the gorillas fruits and vegetables and introduce the gorillas to the visitors," Yelton said.

• The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is at 3400 Vine St., Avondale. Information: 281-4700 or visit (www.cincinnatizoo.org) .

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