By Samantha Feuss, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
9:13 AM EDT, September 17, 2012
Take your family on a wildlife safari right in your own back yard. These four zoos in South Georgia offer great day trips with educational components for the kids.
The Oatland Island Wildlife Center of Savannah will provide your family with memorable experiences that will last well beyond your trip. Striving to spark a lifelong love of nature and its inhabitants, the Center lets your children experience any of the forty hands-on activities available to them, such as marsh ecology boat tours, star programs, and guided tours - all with the goal of deepening their understanding of the surrounding flora and fauna. Locals can even enroll their children in summer day camp, which feature stories, crafts, up-close-and-personal observations, and hands-on scientific experiments to help children experience and understand nature's phenomena. Contact: (912) 395-1212; http://www.oatlandisland.org
At Pine Mountain's Wild Animal Safari - Georgia's drive-through animal park - you and the family can go on safari from the comfort of your own vehicle, in a rented Zebra Van, or on the bus service offered by the zoo and led by a tour guide. With a park that's five miles long and covers over 250 acres, there are animal encounters galore. Here you can visit 650 animals from 65 different species, and give your family a worldwide travel experience without leaving the facility. For a more traditional zoo experience, hop out of the vehicle and stroll along the walking path, where you'll find the smaller and more friendly animals and can hand feed sheep, alpaca, zedonk, and others. Contact: 706-663-8744; http://www.animalsafari.com/Georgia/
Everyone who works at Statesboro's Center for Wildlife Education (associated with Georgia Southern University) is strongly committed to giving your family a good environmental education. But more importantly, they do it in a way that's fun for all ages. With daily wildlife programs highlighting different species and topics, your family will never forget their day at The Center for Wildlife Education. Check out a bald eagle's nest, feel an owl's feathers as it swoops by your head, or hold Monty the Burmese Python and learn why this scaly vertebrate isn't so scary after all. Lucky visitors may even get to meet Georgia Southern's mascot, Freedom, who inspired the wildlife center. Get up close and personal with raptors, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals at the Wildlife Education Center and the Lamar Q Ball, Jr. Raptor Center. With more than five acres of diverse habitats and species, an amphitheater, and an indoor classroom, this is one zoo your family will never forget. Contact: (912) 478-0831; http://welcome.georgiasouthern.edu/wildlife/(underscore)home
Touted as Atlanta's oldest cultural attraction, the story of how Zoo Atlanta got its start is worth the trip. Back in 1889, a circus was on its way to Marietta but something happened and they never quite made it. The owners of the circus abandoned the animals, but a local businessman rallied his neighbors and raised enough money to relocate the animals to Grant Park, a scenic area that was a popular picnic spot. Thanks to donations from an eccentric collector, the zoo's population quickly doubled to roughly the size it is today. It now is home to a sea lion, hyenas, water buffalo, and more - including the zoo's first tiger. With a history as rich and exciting as Zoo Atlanta's, the educational programs for children have a tough time competing. But compete they do. Families can play Zoo's Clues and navigate the zoo by helping an otter detective track down his latest hints and clues, and encourage outdoor family fun. Children can also go on scavenger hunts, crate crafts, or participate in one of the many Year-of-the-Dragon activities offered by Zoo Atlanta. Contact: (404) 624-WILD http://www.zooatlanta.org/