For animals, activities, you can't beat Children's Zoo

August 06, 1994|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

Even if the Orioles fail to catch the Bronx Bombers, the Baltimore Zoo has topped its venerable Bronx counterpart in one category: children's zoos.

That's according to Allen Nyhuis, author of "The Zoo Book: A Guide to America's Best," which was released earlier this year by Carousel Press. Mr. Nyhuis will be at the Baltimore Zoo today to sign copies of his book and answer questions.

In the 277-page book ($14.95), Mr. Nyhuis gives mostly capsule reviews of U.S. zoos along with some foreign zoos that he completed over a 3 1/2 -year period.

Under Children's Zoos, he ranked Baltimore first followed by the Bronx Zoo and Los Angeles Zoo with seven others all charitably lumped in second place.

"Quite honestly, it wasn't even close," says Mr. Nyhuis, who visited the zoo in August 1992 with a family from Gaithersburg.

"It's a complete children's zoo. I've seen over 60 children's zoos," he says. "But none of them have the complete collection of animals and activities and features" like the Baltimore Zoo.

Under the top 25 U.S. zoo exhibits, the Lied Jungle at the Omaha Zoo in Nebraska leads the pack while the Baltimore Zoo's Children's Zoo was ranked eighth followed by the Bronx Zoo's JungleWorld.

But don't get carried away with too much New York-bashing; the Bronx Zoo, which changed its name to the International Wildlife Conservation Park in 1992, fared well in most of the 18 categories, taking first place in Asia and Birds as well as many second place rankings.

Reviewing the Baltimore Zoo, Mr. Nyhuis writes, "With its new, top-rated Children's Zoo, it has moved out of the shadow of Washington's National Zoo . . . and has established an image of its own."

The $7 million, 8-acre children's zoo, formally known as the Lyn P. Meyerhoff Maryland Wilderness, was opened in thirds beginning in 1988 with the farm yard. Next came the first section of the Maryland Wilderness, a year later, with marsh land, stream valley and a cave. The final section, with its tree and meadow habitat, opened in 1990.

To the zoo's education curator, Catherine Tompson, the book's ranking was not a surprise.

"The Maryland Wilderness is what brought me from another fine institution: the Cincinnati Zoo," Ms. Tompson says.

"When I came through on my first visit and saw the Maryland Wilderness, I felt this zoo had more potential than any of the zoos that I have ever seen."

Mr. Nyhuis, an Indianapolis resident, statistician and part-time university instructor, may not be a zoologist, but he has done his own fieldwork, visiting 53 major zoos in the United States.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore also received a short but favorable review in the "More Places to See Animals" chapter toward the end of the book. Mr. Nyhuis says he plans to visit it this weekend.

Not all Mr. Nyhuis writes about the Baltimore Zoo is laudatory. He was not impressed by the Victorian cages in the Main Valley, but did like its variety of carnivores.

"It's a zoo that's coming a long way quickly. It obviously has some old exhibits. But from what I know they're trying to update them. They're not only trying -- they are," Mr. Nyhuis says.

Baltimore Zoo Director Brian A. Rutledge told The Sun in April the zoo will remove the stone-and-bar cages in two to five years.

Allen Nyhuis, author of "The Zoo Book: A Guide to America's Best," will autograph his book from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Baltimore Zoo, Druid Hill Park. Zoo hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today. Admission is free for children from 2 to 15 years who enter before noon today. Regular admission is $3.50 for children ages 2 to 15; $6.50, adults; $3.50 for seniors. Parking is free. Call 366-LION.

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