Southwick's Zoo: A Hidden Gem with GREAT Animals
Southwick's Zoo: A Hidden Gem with GREAT Animals
As we followed the directions to Southwick's Zoo, turning on a country lane in Mendon, MA, I couldn't resist saying, "I feel like we are in the movie 'We Bought A Zoo'."
Southwick's Zoo celebrated 50 years as a family-owned, family-run zoo located on the Southwick homestead which dates back to 1803 when it was a working dairy farm. The zoo traces its origins back to Justin Southwick's exotic bird collection in the 1930's. His son, also named Justin, shared his passion for birds and his collection began to draw visitors from across the region. He later placed a donation bucket at the entrance to his farm. The zoo was incorporated as Southwick Wild Animal Farm in 1965.
Located in Mendon, Massachusetts, situated almost equidistant from Boston, Worcester and Providence (RI), the rural setting is surprising. As you pass through small towns and narrow lanes, it does not have the urban feel of the major zoos in the northeast. I have visited hundreds of zoos and this really is like no other.
Today's zoo covers over 250-acres and houses over 750 animals in more than 115 species, making it the largest zoological location in New England. We were enamored by the largest primate collection in New England, with marmosets and squirrel monkeys playing for our amusement, and the only Chimpanzee exhibit in the region.
Its beginnings as an exotic bird location is seen immediately upon entry as a Hyacinth Macaw greets you at one of the first crossroads on the zoo's foot paths. A White Indian Peacock spread its feathers in greeting, and then was chased off by a Lady Amherst's Pheasant. The cries of the Blue Indian Peacocks could be heard throughout.
The EARTH Discovery Center at Southwick's presents live animal presentations and is home to EARTH ltd., the zoo's non-profit arm focusing on environmental education and teaching the community about topics including ecology, endangered species, and sustainability. The non-profit provides monetary support for conservation efforts, docent training, international student housing, educational seminars, animal care, Zoo education, summer program activities, teaching materials, and research programs. The building is a great stop for close encounters with staff, interns, and the animals they use in outreach. It really is a special exhibit in the zoo.
Thelma or Louise? One of the White Rhinos at Southwick's Zoo | Photo by Mark D Phillips, markdphillips.com
With Lions, Tigers, Cheetahs and Giraffes, the zoo brings Africa to the forefront as well as presenting two incredible White Rhinos named Thelma and Louise. The zoo is working with EARTH ltd. to promote rhino conservation with Rhino Encounters. The $99 experience gives the participant the chance to meet and touch the White Rhinos in a special encounter area. You must register in advance as the spots fill quickly. In 2016, Southwick's raised $15,120 through encounters and 100% of the proceeds were donated to Project Rhino KZN.
The Giraffe enclosure was expanded in 2011, with special Giraffe Encounters offered on weekends where visitors are given the opportunity to feed them. Giraffe Encounters are available as long as it is at least 60°F and not raining. Tickets cannot be reserved and are available on a first come, first served basis for $15 with three time periods available every Saturday and Sunday.
The Bengal Tigers were active when we arrived and putting on a show just feet away from the viewing location. Directly across from this enclosure, a male and female Lion were lounging right at their viewing area staring down the zoo visitors who walked up, surprised to see them so close. Even at a wonderful scene like this, you have the idiot iPhone photographer leaning over the safety fencing yelling, "Hey Lion! Look Here!"
The 35-acre Deer Forest is another unique feature to the zoo. Entering through a fenced-in double doorway, the path goes around a lake with docile deer that approach you to eat out of your hands. It is a fun experience for any age group.
There are indoor escapes as well. The reptile and insect walkthrough was added in 2016 with many snakes and creepy, crawly residents like the Salmon Pink Bird Eater Tarantula and the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. My daughter especially liked the Chinese Water Dragon and the Golden Dart Frog.
After walking for what feels like miles, jump aboard the Skyfari Sky Ride, which takes visitors over a large portion of the zoo in a triangular pattern. When the chairs go around the bull-wheels, it is a rush. For those of us who have ridden a chairlift at ski resorts and watched the chairs whip around the circle, this is a fun experience. Looking down on the animals is a different perspective; They seem to not be aware that we are there.
It was well worth a day visit to Southwick's Zoo.
And yes, it did feel like "We bought A Zoo."