With the cold temperatures making even our spit freeze on some days, when a warm day came up, we were not going to waste it for anything and decided to rush off to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, the USA. Considered the best zoo in the world, I did not want to leave without seeing it.
We went to Jimmy John's first, to carry sandwiches for lunch. We chose the Gourmet Smoked Ham club sandwiches, packed with real apple-wood smoked ham, smoked ham and provolone cheese topped with lettuce and tomatoes and a Hunters Sandwich with a quarter pound of roast beef with provolone cheese and lettuce, and then stowed them carefully away in our back packs for lunch.
Standing in line with the chill wind buffeting us, we heard the majestic and reverberating roar of a huge cat from somewhere within an enclosure to our left. Could it have been a Bengal Tiger we wondered? We were definitely going to the Big Cat enclosure later. I mean who would have thought to see a zoo in the mid west of all places?
We headed straight for the Lied Jungle first, which boasts a rainforest setting, featuring cascading waterfalls and monkeys jumping from tree to tree. We were enveloped in a blast of humidity and warmth. Cited as America’s largest indoor rainforest, the Lied Jungle has waterfalls crashing, gibbons swinging and for me it felt like I was back home in the tropical environment of India!
Monkeys, tapirs, macaws and pygmy hippos are just a few of the animals you will see in the Lied Jungle. Seeing the vividly coloured Macaws up close and personal was my second experience after Australia.
The African forests had amazing trees like the Tamarind tree, Cola nut tree, African oil palm, the African tulip tree and a large Travelers palm.
The jungle of South America, is highlighted by a 50-foot waterfall where everyone wanted their pics taken. Spider monkeys shared an island with tapirs and capuchin monkeys and it felt good to admire so many Philodendron and epiphytic orchids which seemed to be flowering and growing happily in their new surroundings.
The third area that we chose to visit was the Desert Dome, again apparently the world's largest indoor desert, located under a glazed geodesic dome which is a landmark icon of the zoo and for Omaha. Built at a cost of $31.5 million, the dome has plant and animal life from three deserts: The Namib desert of Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest of the US .
The awe inspiring dome is 230 feet in diameter spanning over one acre, and is an engineering marvel as there are no supports to it.. Interestingly, a gutter system, on the outside of the dome, is connected to two, 20,000 gallon underground storage tanks for the collection of rainwater. This rainwater harvested is used for watering the plants inside the dome which is a great sustainable practice.
After which we headed to the Aquarium, where the best section we enjoyed, was the Walk on the bottom of the ocean. Here one can literally come nose to nose, with sea turtles as sharks circle above you in the 70 foot shark tunnel. One can discover polar regions, temperate oceans, coral reefs and the Amazon exploring this massive aquarium. From Antarctic penguins to colourful warm water fish, you get to see the magical world of underwater life.
Walking through the Aquarium offers a 40 foot racetrack tank with schooling fish greets visitors as they walk through the entrance. The tank features a built-in fibre glass divider that allows the fish to disappear and then reappear moments later. This tank is custom built and an amazing feat of engineering. The seahorse enclosures had me gaping at the little creatures and was especially tickled with the beauty of the little guys.
The exhibit that draws large crowds is the Penguin gallery. Here, visitors can see tufted puffins and common murres in an above-and below-water exhibit which also encompasses a 20 foot high cliff nesting site. Antarctic penguins can be seen through a 60 foot long, 25 foot high window extending both above and below water.
One highlight of the Aquarium has always been the underwater stroll on the ocean floor through the Shark Reef. This system contains over 900,000 gallons of circulating salt water. Visitors wind their way through an oval-shaped, 70 foot long acrylic pathway where they can observe sand tiger sharks, zebra sharks and sting rays swimming past them on two sides and overhead.
Another great enclosure was the gorilla exhibit. In Africa these awesome Silverback gorillas are killed for Bush meat. Happily Omaha is a major player in gorilla conservation according to a notice put up and the current research partners include zoos in North America, Europe, South Africa and Australia.
The big Cat enclosure had Siberian Tigers and Malaysian Tigers. Strangely the Royal Bengal Tiger enclosure was empty. The African Lions drew the most attention with the female nudging the male to his feet . He grumpily got up and then as if on que roared menacingly which reverberated through our very beings. Then when he was done he grumpily flopped down all over again! All the cats looked like their coats were well tended to and looked very well fed.