Here's a reason to spend a winter day outdoors: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore kicks off the 2007 season with free admission this weekend.
It's a chance for patrons to revisit old animal friends, enjoy a live band and see some new animals, said Lainie Contreras, the zoo's public relations manager.
The zoo, which was closed for January and February, recently added an African crested porcupine named Kayin and a male okapi named Hiari. They already have a female okapi, which looks like a cross between a mule and a zebra but is actually in the giraffe family, Contreras said. The zoo hopes the two will breed.
"It's a very unique-looking animal, and I think guests are always amazed when they see the okapi and just wowed by their beauty as well," Contreras said. "They're very beautiful animals."
Zoo president Billie Grieb will start festivities with a brief introductory speech at 10 a.m. Saturday. The trio Rocknoceros will play a number of times over the course of the weekend.
"They're geared more toward kids, although, from what I understand, adults will enjoy them as well," Contreras said.
The zoo will offer face-painting and carousel rides for a fee. The animals will celebrate the reopening with toys and edible treats. Zookeepers will give the warthog a melon, the leopards plastic toys coated in lard and spices, and the polar bears frozen treats.
The zoo is also looking forward to a shipment of new animals. In late spring or early summer, the Philadelphia Zoo is sending three African elephants. The zoo currently has two elephants, Dolly and Anna, both of which are big hits with zoogoers, Contreras said.
"To me, they're such incredibly intelligent creatures with very distinctive personalities," Contreras said. "They're so much smarter than humans. They really are. They're a lot of fun to get to see them up close."
The zoo will also begin work this year on a roughly quarter-mile path for the elephants to use in addition to their normal exhibit space. Other plans include an expanded African Aviary, with new birds and benches.
This weekend, patrons can see how some of the younger animals, such as the three baby chimpanzees, have grown in the past few months.
"You can't go wrong with free admission," Contreras said. "I think they're going to enjoy being outdoors. Hopefully, the weather will be good this weekend."
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore's opening weekend celebration is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free. The zoo is in Druid Hill Park. For more information, call 443-552-5276 or go to www.marylandzoo.org.