date published: June 10, 2002

Lions, leopards and bears, oh my! Explore the wonderful world of Mother Nature's creatures at area zoos, aquariums and whale watches 
by Scott Roberto

Glimpsing wildlife in Boston doesn't just mean coming face-to-face with monstrous sewer rats, pesky pigeons and the occasional dumpster-diving skunk or raccoon. Experiencing wildlife in the confines of any urban area-unless you're talking about the kind of "wild life" more likely seen of MTV's "Spring Break" than the Discovery Channel-is a rare occurrence. And since an African safari is beyond the budget of most folks, their chances of seeing truly exotic critters up close would seem to be slim.

That's why the importance of zoos and aquariums as educational and conservational forces can't be overlooked, because, let's face it-out of sight, out of mind. Fortunately for Bostonians and visitors to the Hub, several exceptional facilities in the area allow them to observe, learn about, and sometimes even interact with creatures of various shapes and sizes from all over the world. The following survey compiles the best places in and around the region to view some of the most fascinating animals that have ever walked, hopped, crawled, soared or swam, from wolves, gorillas and kangaroos, to sharks, sea turtles and humpback whales.

Franklin Park Zoo
One Franklin Park Road, 617-541-LION
This zoological attraction located in Dorchester's Franklin Park-the "crown jewel" of Frederick Law Olmstead's Emerald Necklace park system-has been delighting visitors of all ages for more than 90 years. Rescued from near-ruin several years ago by the non-profit corporation Zoo New England, the facility has grown tremendously in recent times and boasts many world-class exhibits housing more than 210 species. One highlight is the indoor tropical forest enclosure-one of the largest of its kind in the world-that is home to a family of western lowland gorillas, most notably young Kira, who was born at Franklin Park in 1999. Also featured are African wild dogs, lions, giraffes, an Australian Outback display and the recently re-opened Butterfly Landing, an outdoor garden swarming with those colorful winged insects. And if you want to experience that other kind of "wild life," the zoo's 6th annual black-tie gala fundraiser, Zootopia! 2002, takes place on June 7 from 6:30 p.m.-midnight (call 617-989-2693 for more information). For access to Franklin Park Zoo, take the MBTA's Orange Line to Forest Hills and transfer to the Number 16 bus. Refer to listing in Sightseeing.

King of the wild-Lions are just a few of the wild animals that inhabit Boston's Franklin Park Zoo.

Museum of science
Science Park, 617-723-2500
Although its new permanent exhibit A Bird's World doesn't showcase wildlife of the living variety, it does explore the intricate nature of our feathered friends with its vast collection of mounted birds. For those who prefer their creatures still breathing, live animal demonstrations take place several times daily and feature tamarins (a kind of monkey), snakes, turtles, frogs, spiders and more. The Museum of Science is located near the Science Park "T" stop on the Green Line. Refer to listing in Museums.

New England Aquarium
Central Wharf, 617-973-5200
This undersea wonderland has long been a local favorite. Boasting a central Caribbean coral reef tank swimming with sharks, sea turtles, moray eels and the like, the Aquarium gives visitors a rare glimpse of life beneath the waves. Other favorites include the ever-popular penguins, the sea otters, a hands-on tide pool, daily sea lion shows and the harbor seal enclosure in the plaza outside the building. Their latest display, Living Links: Choices for Survival, explores the connection between aquatic ecosystems, their inhabitants and the larger environment, including how man's presence effects it all. Centered around an indoor waterfall surrounded by a re-creation of the Solomon Island's Morovo Lagoon in the South Pacific, the exhibit showcases sea turtles, poison arrow frogs, jellyfish, monkey-tailed skinks and an array of tropical fish. And with the Aquarium's new 3-D Simons IMAX Theatre in place and an expansion plan in the works, this outstanding facility is poised to make an even bigger splash in the future. The Aquarium can be reached via its namesake "T" stop on the Blue Line. Refer to listing in Museums.

Roger Williams Park Zoo
1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, R.I., 401-785-3510
Debuting in 1872 and constructed on the site of a farm donated by Providence founder Roger Williams' great-great granddaughter, this zoo was only the third such facility in the country. Winner of numerous accolades, including a Yankee magazine "Editor's Pick" in 2001 and a Top Ten Zoo in America selection by Travel & Leisure Family magazine in 1999, this 40-acre site lies less than an hour's drive south of Boston down I-95. Over 1,000 animals from around the globe populate the park, among them African elephants, polar bears (including a cub born on site in 2000), lemurs, kangaroos and giraffes (including two calves born in April). In addition, the Zoo's education and conservation initiatives have been nationally recognized many times over. Refer to listing in Sightseeing.

Stone Zoo
149 Pond St., Stoneham, 781-438-5100
Situated next to Spot Pond reservoir since 1905, this sister to Franklin Park Zoo lies only 10 miles north of Boston, just off I-93's exit 34. At 26 acres, Stone Zoo is small but picturesque, and is the site of the nation's first Earth Park, where visitors can learn about conservation and the environment. The Zoo is also home to Mexican gray wolves, snow leopards, llamas and reindeer. Opening in June is the brand new Treasures of the Sierra Madre, an exhibit exploring that mysterious Southwestern mountain range and its myriad wildlife, including coyotes, jaguars and two orphaned cougar cubs who have graciously been offered a new home in Stoneham. Refer to listing in Sightseeing.

Bark at the moon-Wolf Hollow in Ipswich offers visitors an inside look at the world of these large land predators.

Whale Watches
Beantown Whale Watch, Massachusetts Bay Lines,
60 Rowes Wharf, 617-542-8000; Boston Harbor Cruises, One Long Wharf, 617-227-4321; New England Aquarium, Central Wharf,
These various whale watch operators run tours ranging anywhere from three to five hours and most guarantee whale sightings. And with famed Stellwagen Bank less than an hour ride off the Massachusetts coast, it's no wonder. Home to finback, minke and humpback whales, Stellwagen is the perfect environment for these immense marine mammals to frolic and feed. A whale watch cruise is sure to thrill, enlighten and entertain. Huge whales aren't the only attraction, though, as smaller pilot whales and schools of dolphins are regular visitors to these waters, as is the giant but harmless basking shark. A recent excursion from the New England Aquarium even spotted a beluga whale, a rare sight in these parts considering these snow-white cetaceans usually reside in frigid Arctic waters. Refer to listings in Sightseeing.

Wolf Hollow
114 Essex Road, Ipswich, 978-356-0216
This non-profit wildlife haven, a fixture on the North Shore since 1990, is home to a pack of eight British Columbian timber wolves. Located in the seaside community of Ipswich about 25 miles north of Boston, Wolf Hollow helps educate the public about the role these predators play in the environment, with a view toward their preservation. You'll also learn about the social interaction of an actual inter-generational wolf family in a natural setting. A popular field trip destination, it's open on weekends (weather permitting) to the general public for hour-long demonstrations at 1:30 p.m. You'll be invited to observe the pack at close range during an educational lecture, and even howl with the wolves at its conclusion. Groups of 20 or more are welcome on weekdays by appointment. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3.50 for children ages 3-17. For those seeking a more in-depth view of lupine behavior, occasional one-day seminars offer a chance to interact with individual wolves. Upcoming seminars are held on May 31 and June 7.

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