Party like an animal

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore celebrates its 130th year this weekend with a free bash

March 02, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

It's kind of a reverse birthday celebration.

When the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore opens for its 130th year this weekend, it's hosting a free bash and giving - not receiving - presents.

Admission is free Saturday and Sunday, and the first 130 guests Saturday will get a free zoo gift. There will also be free cake, live music, guest speakers, a history program and period actors that day.

"Everybody's welcome, and we're really hoping that we'll have a huge turnout both days," said Lainie Contreras, the zoo's public relations manager. "We say it's a party, and the more the merrier."

A number of local bakeries donated birthday cakes, which will be on display starting at 9:45 a.m. At noon, the cakes will be served to zoo patrons.

Humans won't be the only animals snacking - the pair of polar bears, Alaska and Magnet, also get a zoo birthday treat. Zoo keepers will make the bears two large block cakes of ice and offer them other polar-bear grub such as Gatorade, produce, fish and lard.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will speak at 10:15 a.m. Saturday near the central plaza, proclaiming the day Maryland Zoo Day, Contreras said. Afterward, a band will play in the same area. Miss Maryland USA 2006 and Miss Maryland Teen USA 2006 will also appear Saturday.

Saturday, the zoo, which opened in 1876, will also host programs to teach children about its history, conservation and research projects and preservation strategies. Four actors will re-create periods in the zoo's history.

Visitors should put aside about one or two hours to eat cake, tour the zoo and see the new renovations, programs and exhibits, Contreras said. The zoo closes in January and February because it's so cold that a number of animals don't go outside, she said. Having those couple months off also gives the zoo time to renovate and repair.

During this year's break, the zoo beautified a tram route from the main gate to the central plaza and reopened the giant tree slide in the Maryland wilderness section. In the next several months, the zoo plans to open new bathrooms by the main gate.

Other projects slated for this year include a new carousel, train and giraffe feeding station - something Contreras is particularly fond of. When it's completed, visitors will be able to buy food and have a giraffe eat it out of their hands, she said.

"That's really going to be neat," Contreras said. "I got the chance to feed one a couple of weeks ago, and I was surprised at what incredible gentle creatures they are. You think something that big would be mean, but they're so nice."

The Maryland Zoo's opening day weekend and 130th birthday celebration is 9:40 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. The zoo is in Druid Hill Park. For more information, call 410-396-7102 or visit www.marylandzoo.org.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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