Spring Into ZooMontana with 8 Things to Check Out Today
If you don't have children, you probably don't visit ZooMontana that often. Heck, I've got a houseful of kids and I'll admit it's been a while since we stopped by either. We had the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour this week (5/9) to see what's new, and there is a lot going on.
ZooMontana has come a long way in the 10 years since Executive Director Jeff "The Nature Guy" Ewalt took over. When he arrived, the zoo was struggling financially. They had lost their AZA accreditation status (a big deal) and many of the exhibits and overall condition of the premises were frankly in pretty rough condition.
Time, money, and hard work.
ZooMontana receives no state funding and relies on admission fees, grants, and generous donations from private individuals and local businesses. Ewalt was our personal tour guide and his passion for ZooMontana was clear as we bounced along the pathways of the 70-acre zoo in their oversized golf cart.
The baby bison turns 1 year old on June 30th.
Little Jay isn't very little anymore. Jeff said that Jay's dad Bert acts like a pet dog in many ways and he has quite a personality. Bert's been known to throw temper tantrums like a child when he doesn't get his way. The exhibit is popular with out-of-state tourists who may have never seen a bison before.
Upgrades to the playground area.
Just inside the front gates of the zoo, the popular playground area has some new stuff, like the handicap-accessible sensory music path pictured above.
Huge upgrades on a formerly underutilized space.
Workers and heavy equipment are busy transforming a formerly mucky, swampy, bird-poop-filled area into a gorgeous new exhibit called the Foster Waterfowl Refuge.
The new waterfowl refuge will be completed late this summer.
Supply chain issues (aren't you sick of those words?) have caused a few delays in the massive project, but Ewalt said they're hoping to have it completed by the end of summer. You can learn more about the project here.
You'll probably never see a wolverine in the wild.
The elusive wolverine has been making some fairly rare public appearances in the wild lately, with a sighting in Yellowstone Park in March and last week one was spotted in a cemetery in Butte. Ewalt said there are only an estimated 300 - 400 wolverines in the wild in Montana, so your odds of running across one while out hiking or hunting are extremely rare.
Look at these two goofballs.
Griff and Kahn are Sichuan Takins. They reside just across from the red panda exhibit. Native to the mountains of Tibet, these two came to ZooMontana from the Pueblo Colorado Zoo.
New playground equipment.
A new piece of playground equipment has been installed near the tiger exhibit, thanks to a generous private donation.
Of course, you gotta' see the tigers.
Two of the zoo's longest residents remain the biggest stars of the show. Both tigers were out lounging when we stopped by this week and Ewalt said they'll be turning on the pumps for their water features soon. While tigers don't love pepper, they do love water.
The koi pond area has been upgraded.
Somewhat surprisingly, the koi pond is one of the more popular areas at the zoo during the summer months, Ewalt said, mainly because guests can feed the fish. The fish food vending machine will be out for the summer soon. These koi seemed to know what was up, as they came swimming towards me when I was snapping pictures.
New education center.
Inside the main part of the zoo (next to the chinchillas and the kookaburra) is a new education center classroom, something they've sorely lacked. The multipurpose area can be used for animal encounters or any one of their many educational programs.
Wrap things up at the gift shop.
The gift shop appears to have undergone a bit of a makeover since the last time I visited and my kids won't let us leave without getting some sort of trinket. I always oblige, as the gift shop obviously helps support the zoo.
My phone died before we wrapped up the tour, so I didn't get a picture of Winston, the two-toed sloth. He was one of my favorites during this visit and if you haven't been to ZooMontana for years, you should really stop by. It's the only zoo in the state. Spring is a great time because it's not scorching hot yet and many of the animals are quite active. Mornings at 10 am are the best time of day.