Columbus Zoo Opens ‘Heart Of Africa’ Region


UPDATED: Thursday May 22, 2014 6:44 PM

Jack Hanna and Betty White helped open the newest region of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on Thursday – The Heart of Africa.

The region offers zoo guests a number of new experiences.

Visitors will feel like they are taking a trip through the savanna.

For example, you can feed the giraffes, like White did on her visit.

Visitors can also tour a replica of Jack Hanna's camp that is sometimes raided by Vervet monkeys.

The monkeys very social animals and live in organized troops.

The Vervet exhibit was designed because when Jack Hanna goes to Africa, it's not really lions he has to worry about, or other predators - it's actually monkeys. The monkeys are known for raiding camps and eating the food. The exhibit is set up to look like Jack Hanna's camp in Africa

The monkeys all came from zoos and sanctuaries in South Africa.

If you want to ride a camel through the Heart of Africa, you now can.

Matt Schoebel, who owns the camel ride, says these "ships of the desert" are accustomed to carrying a lot more than people.

"They've been a beast of burden for about 6,000 years," said Schoebel. "It's a pretty bumpy ride. It's a good kid's ride."

Schoebel says his camels are pretty docile. The rides cost $7 per person.

Racing cheetahs are also part of the new region. The spotted cats are the fastest land animals on earth.

The cheetah can race at 60 mph but they are in danger of going extinct. Animal experts say there are only 10,000 left.

"Of all the big cats in Africa, they're one of the most critically endangered. And so, we really wanted to get the message out," said Suzi Rapp of the Columbus Zoo.

Now at the zoo, visitors can watch the animals compete. The cheetahs are trained to race, by chasing a lure, like a toy. Rapp says the cheetah race is designed to catch visitors' attention and make them aware of how precious and unique this animal is. She says the training was a labor of love for the whole staff.

The Heart of Africa will also include zebras, ostriches, and gazelles. all roaming and grazing over 43 acres.

Families were lining up Thursday to catch the animals in action.

“I came out with my husband and my two kids today and we came to see the opening of Africa. We come to the zoo all the time. We're excited to see all the animals Jack brought here like the giraffes and the zebras,” said visitor Leah Parks.

Leah’s daughter Molly even dressed as a giraffe for the occasion. Molly said she’s most excited about seeing baby animals at the zoo.

It is not Betty White's first trip to the zoo. She visited in 1979 and formed a friendship with Hanna. White told zoo officials she was overwhelmed by the growth of the zoo since her first visit.

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