Are you looking for a list of sweet things to do while in town at the Sweetest Place on Earth? Come make a memorable day trip out of visiting Hershey’s ZooAmerica. The zoo is open year-long and offers many educating as well as exciting opportunities for children and adults alike.
The zoo boasts an array of diverse creatures of all species, all over the globe. Some of the animal acquaintances you will meet include: bats, wolves, lizards, turtles, tortoises, bears, foxes, bobcats, elk, martens, prairie dogs, alligators, crocodiles, bison, birds, mountain lions, porcupines, deer, reindeer, ferrets, frogs, river otters, coatis, the Canada Lynx, Gila Monster, Florida Gar, ocelots and many others. An Animal of the Month is featured regularly. This month’s star is the Mexican Beaded Lizard.
There is plenty to see and do at the zoo. Visitors will find a wonderfully stocked gift shop, for all your souvenir necessities, and plenty food options available from the Timber Treats Food Stand. Picnic lunches are also always welcome when visiting the zoo with many available locations to gorge.
There are plenty of appealing activities to keep children entertained as they foster growth and enthusiasm upon their zoo visits. Special programs are also designated for school field trips, scouting groups and other visiting groups. If you have a child currently in grades one through nine, you may want to consider Zoo Camp. ZooCamp is a wonderful opportunity to provide educate children on the wonders of nature while providing them with fascinating activities. “Each day of ZooCamp is themed and is filled with up-close animal encounters, cool crafts and activities, guided zoo walks, snacks and lively discussions! Campers will have fun while exploring the wild world of animals!”
Another popular activity to consider is the After-Hours Tour at ZooAmerica. For children ages three and up, this 2-hour behind-the-scenes adventure is a perfect pursuit for the whole family to embark upon. “Join ZooAmerica naturalists for an up close and personal tour through the Zoo, including an insider’s look at the Animal Health Center and a flashlight tour through the animal buildings. Feed the otters, touch a reptile, or hold a bird of prey. Plus, all participants will receive a flashlight, snack, and items to complete your adventure through the Zoo!” These tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tours run from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., April through September and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., October through March. Participants are required to pre-register and pre-pay 72 hours in advance.
Dozens of happenings are currently in full-swing. All summer long special activities are held at the zoo daily. Come see Handimals, located at the kiosk. Here, young artists are invited to create custom-made, animal artwork using the artistic touch of handprints. At 11 a.m., each day, naturalists provide different enrichment activities for the animals as part of Carnivore Activity. Featured animals include: the Gray Wolf on Monday and Saturday, The Mountain Lion on Tuesday, The River Otter on Wednesday and Friday and The Black Bear on Thursday and Sunday. The Reptile Program on Woodlands Patio takes place each day at 1:30 p.m. Here, children will learn about various reptiles from turtles, lizards, snakes and crocodilians with featured demonstrations. There is a Tortoise/Lizard Activity, each day, at 2:30 p.m. Participate in a Tortoise feeding on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (located on the east side of the buffalo exhibit). Guests are also welcome to visit the Beaded Lizard inside The Great Southwest building. A Paws, Claws, Scales & Tails Program on Woodlands Patio is delivered each day at 5:30 p.m. This program takes a careful look at how animals use paws, claws, tails and scales for defense, finding food, eating, swimming and escaping from predators. At 6:30 p.m., every evening, the Keeper Corner in the Prairie Dog area will offer you a variety of delights and enjoyments.
Events are held regularly and seasonally at ZooAmerica. The next big up-coming event will take place on Friday, Sept. 10, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This event, the Back to School BBQ, will include visits from your favorite Hershey’s Candies Characters, Ranger Scratch, animal talks by ZooAmerica Naturalists, a diversity of fun, food and family recreations and much more. “This year you will learn all about the magic of the animal kingdom. The Hershey Theatre will join us with Disney Live! presents Mickey’s Magic Show themed activities and the chance to win tickets to see the show. Plus you’ll enjoy a real magic show! All FREE with your admission to ZooAmerica! You can even renew or sign up for a Ranger Scratch Kids Club Membership at a special discount rate of only $20!”
ZooAmerica has made a paw-print impression on the Hershey community ever since its earliest inception in the early 1900s. When animal lovers Franz and Louise Zinner who owned of twelve prairie dogs and a bear cub moved to Lebanon, PA from Weisenberg, Germany in 1899, the earliest spark for a zoo idea was ignited. Aware of Milton Hershey’s work on an idea for a new park, Franz Zinner approached Hershey to speak to him about keeping the animals as a park attraction. Hershey was in agreement to this idea and together, the two men decided to build a zoo in part of Hershey’s attractions. The zoo experienced extensive growth over the years, in visitors as well as attractions. The year 1910 saw to the addition of two black bears, a pair of Zebus, a family of ‘possums, deer, angora goats, pheasants, three peacocks and fox squirrels. Monkeys were also an ever popular attraction at the zoo including: rhesus monkeys, wooly monkeys, spider monkeys and golden baboons. The first lion came to the zoo just four years later, and by 1915 Hershey proclaimed itself the “largest free private zoo in Pennsylvania.” By 1934 the zoo added a Bird House, a Reptile House, and a pair of baby elephants. It was concluded by the 1940s that the zoo received more than 300,000 people annually. A single day’s attendance record, as of 1941, reported 13,289 visitors. Unfortunately, by 1942 the zoo was closed, in large part due to WWII. The zoo reopened once more on May 7, 1950, with a grand reopening of a new monkey exhibit. But these successes were short lived as the zoo closed once more in the 1970s after a decision was made to close it due to plans for the newer Hersheypark. The zoo remained dormant until the year 1975 when Hershey Museum Director, John Strawbridge, convinced Hershey Estates to invest in redeveloping the old zoo as a themed zoological park: ZooAmerica. ZooAmerica was reopened once more in 1978. As of 1982 ZooAmerica has became recognized as one of only 50 zoos in the United States (and only two in Pennsylvania – Philadelphia and Hershey) to receive accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. From its modest founding to its current popularity, ZooAmerica has endured a fortifying history grounded in a legacy sure to last in Hershey, PA for future generations to come.
ZooAmerica is located at 100 West Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, PA 17033. The zoo is open year-round with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays. Regular admission for ages 9 to 54 costs $9.50. Seniors 55 and older as well as Juniors, ages 3 to 8 are $8. Children under 2, ZooAmerica Members, Ranger Scratch Kids Club Members and Hersheypark Season Pass Holders are all admitted free of charge. Group rates are also available. For more information or specific questions about events, camps or all other queries, call 717-534-3900 or e-mail ZooAmerica@HersheyPA.com. The official web site for ZooAmerica is www.zooamerica.com.