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Are you ready to see monkeys, exotic birds and lifelike dinosaurs? One of the top-rated zoos in the U.S., Gladys Porter Zoo has new and updated exhibits designed to give visitors a better look at the animals, from giraffes and gorillas to ghost jellyfish. The animals themselves seem to enjoy their more stimulating habitats.
The eight Capuchin monkeys of Central America strut and scoot over carved stone blocks resembling an ancient northern Mexico temple in the Huasteca exhibit. You spot them sunning, climbing and napping on the rocks in an outdoor, landscaped enclosure where you think Indiana Jones will appear any minute. Next door, whoa! Two capybaras -- huge vegetation-eating rodents- swim in a private pool. Humans meanwhile can cool off in the DIY water feature next to the Pizzooria palapa. Future exhibits in La Huasteca will showcase other animals of the near American Tropics: vampire bats, jaguars and ant eaters.
This summer, the Colobus monkeys move into a spacious, new home. These Old-World primates -- they look like they are wearing a fluffy white cape -- will have a skywalk connecting their current enclosure to an African jungle-like space with lots of climbing, running and snoozing areas.
Ready to travel back in time to the Dawn of the Dinosaurs? This exciting animatronic exhibit of apex predators and spiked plant-eaters comes complete with a sound track of growls and roars. As the animated dinosaurs move heads, tails and claws in the Jurassic-look background, you need to remind yourself this isn’t real. Authentic fossils, an Earth Timeline, real elephant-size dinosaur footprints and great descriptive panels add to the fun, through July 7.
Long before you reach Macaw Canyon, you hear the loud calls of macaws from Mexico and points south. Active, beautiful and noisy birds, the different macaw species look like flying splashes of color.
Inside the renovated Tropical America Free Flight aviary, roseate spoonbills, eye-popping scarlet ibis and chachalacas with attitude roam below and through lush tropical greenery. The birds hop between palms and giant philodendron, splash through the waterway and walk on the paths in front of visitors.
In fact, wild ibis and spoonbills roam Valley beaches and resacas. “Dr. Pat Burchfield, the zoo director, is adamant about showcasing what we have here in South Texas: the birds, reptiles, and small mammals,” says our guide Charlie Abrego. The zoo welcomes visiting local birds like black-bellied whistling ducks and red-crowned parrots, as well as seasonal tourists like Sandhill cranes and groove-billed anis. You can spot a wild nutria on the resaca island where pileated gibbons demonstrate their branch-swinging skills as swans paddle around the resaca.
A peek at the gorilla and chimp habitats reveals primates exploring and sleeping on the renovated play structures. Numerous shaded benches invite you to rest a moment, watch animals while biting into icy mango and coconut popsicles.
Or head to the Coyote Café for refreshments on the shaded patio at tile-topped tables. Continue on, past mistflowers, cenizo and other labeled native plants to the Butterflies, Blooms and Bugs aviary. Inside, zebra longwing butterflies (black and white stripes of course) and other South Texas beauties flit from tulipan to wild persimmon searching for nectar. Stand still and a butterfly might land on your sleeve or head! Take a minute to read about – and observe - the butterfly life cycle of egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Or gasp at the horror show of hissing cockroaches.
Don’t miss the Russell Aquatic Ecology Center. Low steps let kids get eyeball-level with sea horses, ghostly moon jellyfish and brightly colored fish of the Gulf in landscaped aquariums. At the touch tank, trail two fingers in the warm water, and small Atlantic stingrays will brush their silky-soft backs against your hand. Reef to surf, Laguna Madre to the Gulf, here you can see the many watery environments that provide homes for red snapper, drum, shrimp and pompano.
Renovations to the Herpetarium opened up the interior so we have better views of green iguanas, monitor lizards and amphibians in temperature-controlled exhibits. That attractive, slim, green bracelet wrapped around a tree? Look again. It’s a green tree python. Find out the difference between alligators (Texas natives) and crocodiles (not natives.) Be prepared for sightings of coral snakes and other creepy crawlers.
Inside Small World, all ages can grab a rubber brush and groom Nigerian pygmy goats in the petting zoo. Chickens and pot-bellied pig live here, too.
Don’t forget your old friends: lions and tigers, kangaroos and komodo dragons.
Check times when you can help feed a giraffe or a Galapagos turtle. See gpz.org for hours, Saturday classes, zoo sleepovers and summer camp.