The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is once again open to visitors after being closed for almost three months due to the pandemic. The staff is rolling out the welcome mat, and there is much that is new and exciting at the zoo this summer. Adorable newcomers have recently joined this unique community, along with a brand-spanking-new exhibit, Water’s Edge: Africa.

Two irresistible babies recently made the long journey to their new forever home at the zoo. A male mountain lion cub found wandering along a logging road in the state of Washington is now ensconced in the Rocky Mountain Wild Exhibit to join two yearling mountain lion siblings acquired by the zoo last year. Currently the as-yet-unnamed 3-month-old toddler resides in an indoor den where he is being closely monitored by staff. He is able to vocalize with, see, and smell his mountain lion companions through a secure barrier. When staff deem it is safe, he will join his foster siblings in the outer enclosure, and learn from them how to be a mountain lion.

With great fanfare, a baby Alaskan male moose arrived at the zoo on July 15. Due to an unfortunate collision between nature and civilization, he was orphaned when he was less than a week old. The thriving, Great-Dane-sized “little” guy is now around two months old, and weighs in at 90-plus pounds. The zoo’s newest resident will not be lonesome in his new environs, as moose are typically solitary animals. He will likely become as much a visitor-favorite as his predecessor, Tahoma, who died in May.

The newest jewel in the crown at the Zoo is the enthralling Water’s Edge: Africa exhibit. Much careful thought and planning went into the unique design that allows visitors to interact with the animals in close proximity, with minimal barriers.

A flock of African penguins frolics in an environment simulating their home on the beaches of South Africa. They have access to their own rocky cove, pool and slippery slide. Once they feel safe and comfortable the penguins will be encouraged by staff to take strolls along the sidewalk to mingle with astonished visitors.

A trio of hippos comprised of sisters, Zambezi and Kasai; and newcomer male, Biko, are star attractions of the new exhibit. The ladies are in their 20s, while Biko is a mere teenager. The hope is that the pachyderms will eventually warm up to each other enough to breed, and produce rare offspring.

So far “howdies” (what zoo staff call getting acquainted measures) are being accomplished through barriers. The three are taking their time, but will eventually be allowed visitation. Hippos can be a bit cantankerous, as demonstrated by Zambezi and Kasai who occasionally squabble with each other and are separated to get some needed “me” time. If 3,000 pound animals can be called “ adorable” these two definitely are; with their wide-eyed stares, tiny tails and dirigible-sized bodies. And won’t those babies take the cake!

Other animals at Water’s Edge include three playful ring-tailed lemurs, a colony of 30 guinea pigs, several crested guineafowl and a duo of warthogs. The tusked warthogs (think Pumbaa of "Lion King" fame) might be the ugliest/cutest animals ever, engaging visitors as they make head-on eye contact and amble around their enclosure.

Kids of all ages will be enraptured by the Nature Play interactive trail within Water’s Edge. A forest of trees meant for climbing, boulders and stumps for leaping, and a rope suspension bridge make for hours of fun. The sturdy but adventuresome bridge traverses from the forest, over the outdoor hippo enclosure, to a viewing area of the enormous hippo swimming pool. The very-popular bridge shimmies and sways as visitors creep, stroll, or zoom across it. 

Two-year old giraffe, Ohe, from the Tulsa Zoo, recently joined the esteemed, reticulated giraffe herd. He is easily identified by his darker coat, and loves joining his companions as visitors feed them lettuce leaves — always a favorite zoo activity.

Last year’s babies, Viv the giraffe, Bean the two-toed sloth, Louie the howler monkey, Uno the Mexican wolf, and Gidgee the wallaby are now all thriving adolescents. These “kids,” along with precious newcomers, and exciting new exhibits helped bum[ Cheyenne Mountain Zoo up to No. 4 on the USAToday 10Best competition this year. In 2019 the Zoo placed No. 6 in USAToday’s 10Best competition.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is currently operating on limited and timed entry due to COVID-19. Information for visits can be found at cmzoo.org.

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