Celebrating summer at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Whether you are eight years old or 88 years old, there is truly something for everyone at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. And that’s not just a marketing slogan; we saw it firsthand as West Chester & Liberty Lifestyle was granted behind-the-scenes access to four of the coolest exhibits. From the exhibits themselves to the food to the train ride and more, Cincinnati’s zoo continues to transcend generations, making it one of the top zoos in the country.

Gorilla World

Zookeeper: Ashley Ashcraft

If there’s one exhibit that will make you feel right at home, it’s Gorilla World. Most like humans, the group of 10 gorillas features several family units, including Jomo (pictured) and his daughters Mondika and Elle. Young Elle was born in 2015 and became the fiftieth gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo. “Elle has so much energy,” Ashcraft says. “They are very socially dynamic and it’s fun to see them interact with each other.”

Built in 1978, Gorilla World was one of the first large naturalistic primate exhibits in the world. Upon entering the outdoor space, you’re immersed in a simulated African jungle. Recently, an indoor gorilla habitat opened to the public, with floor-to-ceiling viewing glass that will help the Zoo continue to inspire gorilla conservation by getting visitors #CloseEnoughToCare as they watch and engage with the Zoo’s gorillas.

Hippo Cove

Zookeeper: Christina Gorsuch

Does “Fiona” ring a bell? We met the famous, spunky one-and-a-half-year-old during our tour and she and her mom, Bibi, welcomed us with open arms (err, mouths).

Born on January 24, 2017, Fiona was six weeks premature, a situation that most doubted she would survive. “No hippo born more than five days early has ever survived,” Gorsuch explains. “But now, she’s a totally normal hippo.” The reason for her survival? Team Fiona, a group of eight people who cared for her 24/7 for seven weeks. She was hand-fed bottles and stayed in a 98-degree room with another human for nearly two months. Visiting her now, you wouldn’t know she had a tough start or that Bibi didn’t raise her initially. The pair casually swam up to us during the tour and seemed to love the attention—both from their visitors and fans around the world.

African Savannah

Zookeeper: Christina Gorsuch

Perhaps the most eclectic group of animals at the Cincinnati Zoo resides in the mixed-species exhibit: African Savannah. Here, you can transport yourself to an African Safari and meet the Zoo’s warthog, wildebeest, meerkats, vulchers and more. “It’s our island of misfits,” Gorsuch jokes. She explains that the animals in this exhibit didn’t do well with animals of their own species—for a variety of reasons—but they get along great with each other.

After opening in 2014, African Savannah has quickly become a fan favorite, and currently features 20 animals of 10 different species. “When we introduce new animals to this exhibit, we’re always a little nervous about how they’ll react,” Gorsuch explains. “But they meet one by one and they quickly learn their places.” Visitors will meet Walter the warthog (pictured), Mike the wildebeest, and many others on this island of misfits.

Manatee Springs

Zookeeper: Winton Ray

Perhaps the most surprising visit on our tour was at Manatee Springs, where we learned about the Zoo’s partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership. Rescued off the Florida coast, these manatees are injured by human activities and wouldn’t survive if not rescued. They require long-term care, typically two years, before they can successfully return to the wild. To date, the Zoo has rehabilitated and released 12 manatees.

Visitors this summer will likely meet four manatees, including the newest resident, Daphne, who was rescued in April. While they’re rehabilitating, the manatees eat aquatic plants three times a day and work hard to recover from their injuries. “There are about 6,000 manatees in Florida,” Ray explains. “Human activities have a tremendous impact. This is like a second chance program. We’re giving them a second chance at life.”