The Downing Gorilla Forest
The Downing Gorilla Forest opened in July of 2004. Built to replicate eight acres of central African forest, it is home to more than 50 animals of eight species, including a bachelor group of lowland gorillas. The Downing Gorilla Forest is an adventure that delights all the senses, as you become immersed in equatorial Africa. To whet your appetite for the experience ahead, Nganda Village is home to a number of forest animals. Children will delight in the playground, while parents, close by, can enjoy a brief respite in the shade before heading out on their adventure. Along the bank of the river, you will see families of black-and-white colobus and DeBrazza’s monkeys. Both species of monkeys are found along the river and mountain forests of central Africa.
A fifty-foot bridge will take you out of the lively atmosphere of Nganda Village and immerse you in the forest of the gorilla. Look closely and you will see the saddle-billed storks foraging along the stream.The Downing Gorilla Forest is home of the secretive okapi, a distant relative to the giraffe. The okapi was only discovered in 1904. Look across the small stream on the opposite bank for white stripes against a dark brown background and you will see this rare animal. The Sedgwick County Zoo is one of only 35 zoos worldwide to exhibit these animals.
Continuing down the jungle path you will see the first sign that gorillas are near - hand and foot prints. Follow the prints leading to the doors of The Downing Gorilla Forest Reserve. The natural history of the gorilla and conservation efforts of biologists will be described in educational signs and interactive displays. Looking ahead again you will see a large tree, its trunk only visible in the middle of a clearing. Around this large tree you see gorillas. As you enter the clearing you find yourself in the middle of the gorilla’s home – an experience like no other. Take your time and sit under the tree. Watch the gorillas as they forage on the hillside, lounge in the shade, play and wrestle.
The Pride of the Plains exhibit opened in May 2000. It features 700 feet of paths and trails winding through kopje (large boulder) rock with unobstructed views of animals from the African savannah. The large kopje rocks provide shade for meerkats, Red river hogs, lions and painted dogs during the summer and will hold heat to provide a warm surface on cold winter days. Among the kopje rocks, the landscape contains plants and grasses that resemble those native to eastern and southern Africa, providing the look and feel of an African svannah.
As you begin your journey through the savannah you come upon a colony of meerkats. Meekats are only active when the sun warms the surface of their burrows. When the weather is overcast or raining, meerkats may not emerge from their underground homes. Similarly, during midday, if temperatures are too hot, meerkats will return underground to cool off. How many meerkats will you see playing?
Continuing on your way, weaving in and out of the kopje rocks, you spot the Red river hogs wallowing in the mud and lounging in the shade. Up ahead you see one large kopje rock — this has been named "pride rock," as the lions can often be seen sitting on top of the rock surveying the plains. Not too far in the distance is a group of African painted dogs, another predator on the savannah. Listen closely, that unexpected high-pitched squeal is the sound of the painted dog.
The juxtaposition of the meerkat, Red river hog, lion and painted dog creates a dramatic illustration of the predator/prey relationship found on the African savannah.
See Eye to Eye with Giraffes
Finish your journey through Africa with a safari view of hippopotamus, South African bush elephants, rhinoceros, and giraffes. Is a giraffe's nose cold? How long are its eyelashes? What color is its tongue? Discover the answers to these questions and more as your adventure takes you to the Giraffe Feeding Station. Get up close and personal with these tall, elegant animals. You will walk out to the end of a deck, which positions you eight feet into the giraffe yard and eight feet above the ground! As the giraffe approaches and bends his long neck down toward you to take a treat from your hand, you will come to know if its nose is cold and how long its eyelashes are and the color of its tongue. Experience can be the best teacher and in this case, it's quite exciting, too!