Dakota Zoo begins season Saturday
Apr 23, 2009 – 04:05:33 CDT
By BRIAN GEHRING
Saturday, the Dakota Zoo opens its 48th season and will remain open on a daily basis through Sept. 27.
Last season, the Dakota Zoo attracted more than 124,000 visitors, said director Terry Lincoln.
Lincoln said attendance was up last summer, perhaps due to the opening of the Jack and Joyce Schuchart Big Cat Complex. The complex is home to one snow leopard and three Bengal tigers.
Lincoln said the snow leopard is part of a worldwide species survival program that is helping ensure the species’ pure genetics.
They are native to the mountain ranges of central and southern Asia and range into the mountain ranges of Russia and Siberia. The snow leopard at the Dakota Zoo comes from the Himalaya mountains. The total population in the wild is estimated to be between 4,000 and 7,500 animals.
The zoo’s three Bengal tigers – two females and one male – are from India.
At one time, Lincoln said there were 16 distinct patterns or colors of Bengal tigers in the world.
“Now that number is down to four, and we have three of the four here,” he said.
The current population of wild Bengal tigers in India is estimated between 1,300 and 1,500, down about 90 percent of what it once was because of loss of habitat and poaching.
Lincoln said the big cat complex was a major draw last fall when the cats debuted in late August and September.
“I would stack this exhibit up with any other in the country,” he said.
The complex offers a common viewing area where visitors can look at the cats in shaded comfort.
In all, the Dakota Zoo is home to more than 600 animals representing 128 different species. The zoo sits on about 90 acres of land near the Missouri River, about 60 acres of which is dedicated to habitats for the animals.
Lincoln said plans for future additions to the zoo include a new primate center, which is in the design stage. Lincoln said the new facility will enable the monkeys to come and go from indoors to the outdoors at their leisure.
Lincoln said another project the zoo staff is working on is the installation of new signs better describing the animals and the exhibits.
He said a number of family and special events are again planned for the season. For a complete listing, check out its Web site at www.dakotazoo.org.
Daily admission costs are $6.50 for ages 13 and older, $3.50 for ages 2-12, and kids under 2 get in free. Annual memberships are $35 for individuals, $55 for families, or $85, which allows members to bring a guest family.
The zoo will be open from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. Beginning June 3 through Aug. 10, it’s open Wednesdays until 8 p.m.
Reach reporter Brian Gehring 250-8254 or brian.gehring@;bismarcktribune.com.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org