At The Gentle Zoo, youngsters feed pigs, pat ducklings, and interact with the other fuzzy residents. Elsewhere on the zoo’s 10 acres, guests can leap about on the bounce house, blast corn from the corn cannon, navigate the maze, or enjoy a leisurely ride on the tractor train. Such attractions enthrall kids at onsite birthday parties, while the mobile petting zoo’s 12–15 staff-supervised animals offer nuzzles and create memories in children's minds. The creatures also hit the road for the animal-encounters program, which combines hands-on animal contact with educational 45-minute presentations. The Gentle Zoo donates its proceeds from the program to its Creature Connection, Inc. nonprofit, which rehabilitates rescue animals before they participate in outreach programs for foster children and at-risk youth.
More than 100 exotic and endangered animals can be seen at Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch, an educational, nonprofit wildlife ranch licensed by the USDA and featured on the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs. Knowledgeable staffers pilot a fleet of safari trams that ferry guests across the park's sprawling pastures, dispensing enlightening wisdom as they pass zebras, kangaroos, emus, bears, and monkeys. The staff brings patrons face-to-face with many of the exotic critters and often stops to allow guests to pet and get to know the animals. Interactive presentations and small-animal habitats further educate visitors on the menagerie of rare creatures.
Bob and Coni Keyes began the adventure that is Green Meadows Petting Farm in Wisconsin in 1964, when it was simply Green Meadows Farm. As a "pick-your-own" raspberry and vegetable farm, there was nothing there yet to pet, especially since raspberries notoriously withhold affection. When they discovered that most farms of their ilk prohibited youngsters, they brought in animal friends to make their farm a family affair. All it took was the raves of one nursery school group, and suddenly the new Green Meadows Petting Farm was bringing in up to 1,200 visitors a day. Through the decades, Green Meadows has expanded its array of animals and family entertainment, which includes horse-drawn hayrides, sleigh rides, mobile pony parties, and more pumpkins than in a headless horseman's closet. They've also expanded to locations to Maryland and Texas, allowing kids in two times zones the chance to get closer to nature's critters.
The largest urban bottomland hardwood forest on the continent, Great Trinity Forest is a sprawling 6,000-acre expanse of greenery that's home to more than 130 species of birds and Trinity River Audubon Center headquarters, named by D magazine one of the things You Must Do in Dallas. With your Family Pass you'll receive a plethora of exclusive perks, including a newsletter subscription, unlimited free admission for two adults and their children or grandchildren, free Third Thursday lectures, discounts on summer camps and other programming and amnesty in the coming avian war on mankind. Family Pass holders also gain access to restricted bird-watching hours on Friday and Saturday, ideal for observing the glamorous lives of the forest's American red-tailed hawk, horned lark, yellow-billed cuckoo, great blue heron, and more.