The Audubon Institute’s Audubon Zoo of New Orleans sits on fifty acres of land surrounded by grand Oak trees and within earshot of the lumbering barges navigating the Mississippi river. The zoo is named for the naturalist painter of wildlife, John James Audubon, who lived in New Orleans around 1821.

Audubon Zoo of New Orleans houses around two thousand animals and is one of the premiere zoos in the country with plenty of fun for the whole family. Once inside the gates, visit the World of Primates and see several of our hirsute cousins, including the Sumatran Orangutans. Blaze is the youngest of the Orangutan clan. She was born in 1996 and her birth was momentous because Sumatran Orangutans are endangered. It is believed that without aid, they will become extinct within the next fifteen years.

What would a trip be to Louisiana without learning about its marshlands? The Louisiana Swamp exhibit will have you thinking that you are in the real thing, surrounded as you are by Cypress knees, black water, and all manner of interesting wildlife. Be sure to look for Nutria, non-indigenous rodents of large size with yellow buckteeth. If you take a swamp tour while in New Orleans you’re likely to see and learn about how the Nutria are responsible for a considrable amout of wetland damage. The Cajuns will tell you the meat of the Nutria taste like rabbit.

Speaking of the Cajuns, immerse yourself in their unique culture while visiting New Orleans by tasting their culinary delights. If you like watching others dine, stick around for the alligator feedings at the Audubon Zoo. Don your Fedora and pack a machete, and canteen for a hike into the wilds of the Amazon rain forest. Explore this fragile ecosystem while stumbling upon Mayan ruins beneath the swinging Spider Monkeys. There is even an archeological dig site for the Indiana Jones in all of us.

Take care that you do not fall prey to the elusive Jaguar. Jaguars are solitary animals that can weigh up to two hundred and fifty pounds, easily making them the largest cat in North America. Do not be surprised if you see them enter the water. They are excellent swimmers.
There is a place where dragons still roam the earth. These fearsome beasts can reach nine feet in length and weigh around two hundred pounds. They are the Komodo Dragons and they can easily over take a man by sprinting up to fifteen miles per hour.

If you want to see Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat, you will have to visit three small islands in Indonesia or you could brave the Dragon’s Lair at the Audubon Zoo. It is easy to conjure up images of terrifying creatures of myth as you watch the power of these mighty lizards. Unlike most lizards, they are meat eaters with sixty honed teeth for tearing the flesh off bone as they gorge themselves, eating as much as eighty percent of their body weight in a single meal. Komodo Dragons were unknown to the western world until 1912, when European explorers first described them.

There are many other things to see and do at the Audubon Zoo. Climb up Monkey Hill to a five level tree house with rope bridges and wading pools. Legend has it that Monkey Hill was constructed to illustrate what a hill looks like to local children more familiar with New Orleans’ flat topography. You can spend the day trying to reach the top of the rock-climbing wall or take the kids to the Gottesman family endangered species carousel. It is a beautiful carousel that captures the nostalgia of fairs past with its sixty rising and falling animals waiting to be ridden. If it is more high tech adventure that you are looking for, then enter the Safari Simulator ride. Once inside, you can explore a haunted mine or race along the Cosmic Coaster.

There is even an action packed Gorilla Safari and for every ticket sold, a donation is made to the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund International. So head down to the Audubon Zoo of New Orleans and have a wild time.

Audubon Institute also manages the Aquarium of the Americas in the French Quarter.

by Sandy Hester