Grand Rapids zoo invites visitors despite cold weather

By: Joel Schipper Email
By: Joel Schipper Email

As winter approaches many zoos throughout the Midwest are already closed, but there's still time to check out a zoo in Michigan and many people say it's the best time of year to do so.

It's feeding time at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids as the keeper tosses apple slices to the seven chimps eagerly waiting below. These poised and ready primates are just a few of the animals you can see up close and personal.

Located on 26 acres, the zoo has originally been around since the 1890's and it's gotten bigger and better every over time, with nearly 75 more acres to be expanded on in the future.

“We've done dramatic changes. We've added a new lion exhibit, we've modified almost all of our old exhibits to some level or support," said Bert Vescolani, Director of the John Ball Zoo.

That lion enclosure allows you to get a bird's eye view of cats as they look at the children; the lions wishing the glass wasn't there, the kids thankful it is.

“When you're standing nose to nose with a lion between safety glass it's pretty different than seeing it on even the best of those 3D HD TVs,” said Vescolani.

As winter approaches only a few of the animals are shifted indoors for the cooler months, NewsCenter 16’s Joel Schipper got a behind the scenes look at the stingray and shark holding tank, and even helped give them some dinner.

The main aquarium is another quite new and impressive building housing rare fish from all over the world and locally, as well as plenty of penguins.

There's your tropics house full of some both common and very rare reptiles and amphibians.

But this time of year is perfect for many of the outdoor animals.

“The stuff that really thrives in the cooler weather, our bears, and some of our chimps actually even in the winter are pretty active so it's a fantastic place to come,” said Vescolani.

The chimp exhibit is one of the most elaborate in the country and if two of these guys look familiar it's because they're former residents of the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend.

So as winter quickly approaches, there's still time to head to John Ball.

“It’s made it a great place to visit for our guests and a great place for our animals to be,” said Vescolani, “If people walk away caring about wildlife, we've done our job.”

The zoo closes for the winter on December 6. For more information on the John Ball Zoo, click on the Big Red Bar.

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