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Not Just for Kids: Eight Benefits of Visiting the Zoo as a Grown-Up

Guest blogger: Education Intern, Kristina Meek

What’s your first memory of visiting a zoo? It’s likely you were on a school field trip or a family outing. If you have kids at home, you’ve probably taken them to a zoo. If you don’t have kids of your own or yours are grown up, don’t let that keep you from an amazing experience! As an adult, you can still experience the wonder and fun that you remember as a kid at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Here are eight benefits you can reap from a grown-up “field trip.”

1. Stress relief

Research shows that contact with nature lowers stress, but you probably know that intuitively. Just step outside, take a deep breath and spend five minutes watching a bird or butterfly and you’ll feel yourself relax. Now think what good a few hours, or a whole day, walking among hundreds of species of plants and animals can do for you. Make the rounds and take it all in, or just find a bench and chill. Your brain, heart, and nervous system will thank you.

Watching butterflies can relieve stress! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Watching butterflies can relieve stress! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

2. Make a difference in the world.

Ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels? Want to feel like your actions have power? Zoos today are increasingly focused on conservation and green living. Just by buying a ticket for admission, you’ve already supported their cause! Throughout the Zoo, you’ll find ideas for how you can make small changes in your life, whether it’s considering the source of materials for your upcoming home remodel or simply recycling your old cell phone.

3. Fun facts for parties (or in case you’re ever on Jeopardy!)

You won’t remember everything you read on a sign or observation you make on your trip. (What’s the name of that one bird with that thing on its head?) But you’ll probably head out with a few fun facts you can spring on your dinner guests. (Did you know an elephant can “hear” through its feet?) If you’re really serious and enjoy trivia games, or aspire to appear on Jeopardy! one day, file away those nuggets of knowledge. They might come in handy.

4. Trick yourself into exercising.

Most of us struggle to fit enough exercise into our busy schedules. As you walk around the Zoo, you’ll probably be so absorbed in the sights that you won’t even think about how many steps you’re taking. Vary your pace or choose the route that feels right for you for a personalized workout. Walking up the hill from Manatee Springs to Wings of the World is a good workout, for example. You can even try something a bit more athletic by swinging like a gibbon and balancing like a lemur in Jungle Trails.

Balance like a lemur in Jungle Trails (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Balance like a lemur in Jungle Trails (Photo: Shasta Bray)

5. Impress your date.

Anyone can suggest dinner and a movie. Show your creativity and adventurous nature by making a Zoo date. You won’t lack for things to talk about, and you’ll get to know each other in a casual atmosphere. We guarantee the object of your affection won’t forget it.

Date night at the Festival of Lights

Date night at the Festival of Lights

6. You love animals.

There’s a reason the internet is swimming in animal photos. You might not go around proclaiming it like you did when you were a kid, but the affinity you felt back then still lives in you. Tap into it! Whether bugs or birds, primates or pachyderms, find out which animal makes you say, “Aww…”

What's cuter than a couple of cheetah cubs? (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

What’s cuter than a couple of cheetah cubs? (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

7. Party like an animal.

Our Zoo offers unique adults-only events. Socialize, try a new wine or beer, and surround yourself with plants and animals. We guarantee you’ll be talking about it the next day. Click here for information on Wild About Wine, coming up in summer 2016 and sponsored by Q102; and keep your eyes peeled for Zootini in July and Zoo Brew in October!

8. Support a great Cincinnati resource.

Did you know that Cincinnati has the second oldest zoo in the country (and second by only a matter of months, at that)? It’s considered one of the best zoos in the nation and is involved in several significant international conservation efforts. It’s also rich in history; the Zoo itself was declared a National Landmark! It boasts two historic buildings (the Elephant and Reptile Houses) and was home to Martha the passenger pigeon, the last of her now extinct species. When you visit or become a member, you support a non-profit organization playing a major role in the character of our city.

No kids? No problem! The Zoo is for grown-ups, too! We’ll see you soon at the Zoo!

March 29, 2016   No Comments

Five Ways the Zoo Can Help You Practice Mindfulness

Guest blogger: Education Intern, Kristina Meek

It seems that nearly every day another study informs us of the benefits of mindfulness–for children as well as adults. Educators use mindfulness techniques in classrooms. A wide range of authors, from the scientific to the self-help ends of the spectrum, have published books on how to be more mindful.

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts. Mindfulness techniques can be as immediate as a deep breath or as long-term as a commitment to daily meditation. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to lower stress, ease pain, increase empathy, and improve concentration.

What does that have to do with visiting the Zoo? Animals are excellent tutors of mindfulness. They don’t constantly check their cell phones, worry about what others think of them, regret the past or fear the future. They live in the now. The Zoo offers myriad ways to practice mindfulness. Here are five:

  1. Watch the red pandas play. Or the river otters. Or the apes. Choose your favorite, but take several uninterrupted minutes to fully observe animals at play. They don’t worry about whether they look silly or how many calories they’re burning. They play with abandon. Science doesn’t understand completely why animals play, but it clearly benefits them. Whether you’re an adult or a child, you can learn about living in the moment from the animals.

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

  2. Engage your senses. A visit to the Zoo naturally coaxes you to use sight, smell, touch, hearing…and even taste, if you stop for a bite. Invite your children to describe what they see, hear, and smell. Encourage them to pet pygmy goats in the Spaulding Children’s Zoo. Sometimes it’s enough just to remember what the world looks like in three dimensions, rather than on a screen!
  3. Watch the manatees swim. Manatee Springs provides a comfy place to sit, close to the glass, with a view straight into the manatee tank. If you visit on a chilly day, mid-week, you’ll have the best chance at smaller crowds and a more relaxing experience. These hulking marine mammals twist and tumble gracefully through the water, inviting you to exhale and admire.

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

  4. Try not photographing everything. Of course, you’ll want a few photos to remember your visit. But, if you’re a member and stop by regularly, designate a “no photography” trip. Or limit yourself to taking photos of only certain activities. You’ll be more focused on what’s happening instead of capturing it for later. Plus, if your camera is your phone, leaving it holstered will minimize the temptation to check Facebook, e-mail, or other incoming distractions. Whether you’re with your kids, other family, or good friends, you’ll enjoy more quality time together.
  5. Visit the Garden of Peace. Sit a moment and relax in this lesser-trafficked corner of the Zoo, just off the path near Jungle Trails. Take in the multi-cultural messages of peace and bask, for a moment, in gratitude–one of the key elements of mindfulness.

So, wherever you are right now… take a deep breath, and start planning your next visit to the Zoo. And, when life gets too hectic to make the trip, we’re always a click away with photos and videos that offer you a mini break from everyday stress.

March 23, 2016   No Comments

Helping Scientists Assess the Body Condition of Polar Bears in the Wild

As our global climate continues to change, we are already seeing reports and photos of polar bears with decreased body condition. How can scientists track that trend in a consistent manner across the polar bear’s range over the long term? That’s a problem scientists with Polar Bears International (PBI) are working to solve.

A young polar bear male jumping in the pack ice in Norway (Photo: Arturo de Frias Marques)

A young polar bear male jumping in the pack ice in Norway (Photo: Arturo de Frias Marques)

The Body Condition Project is a pilot program to develop tools that non-invasively gather information on the body condition of polar bears. Conceived by PBI’s chief scientist, Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, it is being conducted in cooperation with the University of Wyoming and Purdue University, with support and participation of animal care and research teams at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, North Carolina Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Utah’s Hogle Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo, and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

PBI has developed a Body Condition Index (BCI) card, which provides a standardized way to rate bears in the field through visual observation, and in some cases palpation or touch (if they are safely sedated). Over time, consistent records of body condition across years and regions will help scientists monitor individual condition, as well as how broader populations may be affected by large-scale environmental change, including loss of sea ice due to climate change.

Polar Bear Scorecard

As an Arctic Ambassador with PBI, we often facilitate research projects like the Body Condition Project that help us better understand and conserve polar bears. Last week, Marissa Krouse from PBI came to the Zoo to take 3-D photographic images of our female polar bear, Berit. The images will be compared to physical measurements we take of Berit while she’s under anesthesia in two weeks. This information will be used to improve the ability to assess the body condition of wild bears.

Marissa Krouse shoots photos of Berit

Marissa Krouse shoots photos of Berit

March 9, 2016   No Comments