In Omaha, Neb., a rain forest brings them in

August 02, 1992|By Rick Ansorge | Rick Ansorge,Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph

OMAHA, Neb. -- Bulldozers usually destroy tropical rain forests, but in Omaha they've helped create one.

It's the Lied Jungle, a rain forest under glass that contains 125 spe

cies of animals and 2,000 species of plants.

Four years in the making, the 1.5-acre jungle opened in April at the Henry Doorly Zoo and is being advertised as the world's largest indoor rain forest.

The $15 million project was made possible by a donation from the Lied (pronounced Leed) Foundation Trust, established by a prominent Omaha family.

This is no Disneyfied jungle with cute talking animals. These animals sometimes eat each other, to the chagrin of zoo officials. Shortly before the jungle opened, a crocodile consumed an ibis. A net was strung over the crocodiles' pond to prevent them from eating any more of the $700 birds.

Visitors enter the jungle on an elevated walkway from which they can see waterfalls, moats and tropical islands inhabited by birds, apes and pygmy hippos.

The jungle is shrouded in mist and fog, thanks to a computerized system that keeps its temperature at 75 degrees and its relative humidity at 75 percent.

While crossing a rope bridge, visitors are spritzed by a waterfall on their way to a dank cave inhabited by fruit bats, lemurs and other nocturnal creatures.

For a fake cave, it's unusually authentic. The sculpted concrete strata look and feel like real rock.

After visitors pass beneath a hollowed-out tree branch containing a live python, they climb to a Plexiglas-protected promontory overlooking a 50-foot waterfall, 50-foot palm trees and two massive, artificial tree

trunks extending 80 feet.

Made of concrete and fiberglass, the trunks support the clear fiberglass roof and give the jungle a dramatic sense of scale.

An elevator takes visitors to the jungle floor, where lizards and butterflies frolic in thickly vegetated mango groves and bamboo forests.

The path leads to five underwater viewing areas where visitors can get nose-to-nose with crocodiles, otters and tapirs.

The Henry Doorly Zoo is attracting huge crowds. Since the opening

of the Lied Jungle, attendance has jumped 156 percent, according to zoo officials.

So that everyone has an opportunity to go on safari without going crazy, admission to the jungle is restricted to the time stamped on back of zoo tickets.

Zoo admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children ages 5 to 12, and $4.50 for senior citizens. Summer hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

Call the zoo at (402) 733-8401 for information.

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