An Afternoon Safari

By Nancy Clark

If numbers persuade you, 1,600,000+ people have already taken the trip. And even with lions, tigers and bears, the Denver Zoo is one of the safest places one can frequent in the city. Minors under 16 are not allowed in if not accompanied by an adult. It eliminates the riffraff. Tames the wild, if you will.

Not to worry if you need to cool your heels before it’s your turn to tour Elephant Passage, wile the time away shopping for gifts and souvenirs at the Sol Street Market steps away. Or expand your international palate as you dine on worldwide flavors at the Kamala Café. The Asian BBQ Chicken lettuce wraps are especially gourmet. So not Mac-fast-fat. Healthy and yummy.

A show of how impressive this Elephant Passage really is…is the amount of time put into pre-planning. The Zoological Foundation began planning for the $50M+ improvement nine years prior to its opening in 2012. The vision was to construct an environment for the rapidly declining elephant population and at once provided sustainable practices. From start to finish the elephants’ habitat is 90% self-sufficient with biomass gasification systems converting the zoo’s waste to usable energy to power the exhibit,   eliminating 1.5 million pounds of trash previously going to landfills.

Besides energy production, the habitat features a state-of-the-art 

water filtration system recycling most of the 1.1 million gallons of water running through the Toyota namesake. Natural daylight in the windows and sky lights decreases the electric lighting used on the building interiors. Radiant floor heating indoors and in some outdoor locations is lower cost than traditional HVAC systems and lets the elephant kiddos keep their feet warm when playing outside in winter. Extra ventilation in the buildings improves the indoor air quality for both picadors and humans and the rooftops of these buildings are painted with reflective paint to reflect sunlight which in turn reduces cooling costs.

So whether your interest is in LEED (green) construction or in preserving the declining population of Asian elephants (their total population has decreased from 100,000+ to fewer than 35,000 in a matter of years), the zoo offers entertainment for all. Generations from now, elephants are sure to be even more of a rarity if predictions come true that they will become extinct in this century. Increasing human populations in Asia are encroaching on wild land that once was reserved for the Animal Kingdom. And of course there’s the problem with poaching.

If your desire is to get a laugh out of any of your leisure hours, you’re sure to achieve that while watching 11,000-pound Groucho, new to Denver and our zoo. Hailing from Ft. Worth, Texas, he’s 41 and loves to entertain onlookers by scooping up grasses and dropping on his wide head. It’s a method of keeping cool that his ancestors use in the jungle today. Rumor has it elephants have good memories. It’s a profound experience to watch them at your leisure and wonder what is going on in that oversized brain. Are you watching him, or is he really watching you?

The most impressive part of my afternoon safari was the staging that has gone into the Elephant Passage…it’s as good as a movie set. Battered old Jeeps with boxes of supplies strapped onto the roof give the sense that adventurers have paved the way for the rest of us to explore. Wear your camp shirt and splurge on a safari pith helmet. You’ll look the part. And if you leave it on your coffee table, it will give you a point of conversation for years to come.

Denver Zoo

2300 Steele Street
Denver, CO 80205
303-376-4800

www.denverzoo.org

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