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Get Away

Two new zoo views

The Treetop Skyfari ride and the Rhino Reserve offer visitors up-close looks (and, in some cases, smells) of Lowry Park Zoo's animals.

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published March 10, 2005


photo
[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Alake, left, is a female white rhino who weighs 2,150 pounds. At right is Mufasa, a male who tips the scales at 1,950 pounds. They feed on hay, grains, oats, apples, carrots and bananas.

TAMPA - Don't be mistaken: The Lowry Park Zoo staff has complete confidence in its new Treetop Skyfari ride, which provides a cool new perspective on the zoo from as high as 45 feet.

When it comes to superstitions, however, all bets are off.

A reporter's trial ride last week was delayed for a few seconds when his escort, zoo public relations manager Heather Mackin, saw Carriage No. 13 coming around the bend to carry them over the critter-covered expanse.

"Nope!" Mackin said, pulling the reporter aside to wait for No. 14.

"Well, this is my lucky number," Mackin explained once they were airborne.

Come on. Whose lucky number is 14?

The sky ride is one of two features making official debuts at the zoo Saturday as part of its Safari Africa Phase II grand opening. The other is Safari Africa's new Rhino Reserve, featuring five white rhinos.

The white rhinos - four females and one male - are between 2 and 3 years old and will be part of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Species Survival Plan. That's a breeding program designed to help save endangered species from extinction.

The 1,950-pound male rhino is named Mufasa after The Lion King character. The females all have traditional African names: Alake (which means "one to be petted and made much of"); Fujo ("born after a quarrel"); Aisha ("she is life") and Kidogo ("little bit").

Alake's the biggest at 2,150 pounds, Kidogo the smallest at 1,450.

The zoo soon will open a separately priced VIP experience called "Safari School," part of its plan to bring guests up close and personal with animals from faraway places. Guests will be able to interact with the rhinos in a carefully controlled environment (and of course, protected by strong fencing).

The Treetop Skyfari is a ski lift-type ride, in which your feet dangle just above the treetops and the carriage is connected to the cable by a single arm. It travels over several acres of zoo property, offering a bird's-eye view of orangutans sunning themselves, children taking camel rides and people lined up at the concession stand. Okay, the last one's not an animal exhibit, but it is an anthropological lesson of sorts.

The ride provides not only a new visual perspective but an olfactory one as well in certain spots, but thanks to the proximity with the treetops, most of the trip smells just fine.

The ride is a 13-minute round trip (oops, there's that number again) and costs $4. It runs 1,300 feet each way. The zoo plans to add another sky ride over another portion of its property in the future.

PREVIEW

The grand opening of Rhino Reserve and Treetop Skyfari is at 10 a.m. Saturday at Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. 813 935-8552 or www.lowryparkzoo.com Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission: $14.95, $13.95 seniors, $10.50 ages 3-11.

[Last modified March 9, 2005, 09:40:04]


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