Looking for an up-close encounter with members of another species? Well, we've got the menageries for you, where you can commune with nature through the likes of endangered wolves, birds of prey, sea lions, camels, penguins, butterflies, giraffes, lions, tigers and bears, oh yes. Don your safari gear and let's meet some critters.
Into the Jungle
Predators aren't evil; they're just trying to make a living, and they're vitally important to the environment. That's the ethos at the Endangered Wolf Center, where you can sign up for a variety of weekend tours ($12-$250) to see how they're preserving and protecting Mexican wolves, red wolves and other wild canid species through breeding and reintroduction programs. Reservations necessary.
The nationally acclaimed Saint Louis Zoo houses some 18,000 animals from 700 different species on its beautifully landscaped 89 acres in Forest Park. Be sure to check out the Children's Zoo, Sea Lion Sound, River's Edge, Stingrays at Caribbean Cove, Penguin & Puffin Coast (where you can cool off), Fragile Forest, the flight cage from the 1904 World's Fair and the Zooline Railroad. New at the zoo: McDonnell Polar Bear Point features underwater viewing of bears, Arctic cave and bear interaction area. Admission to the zoo and most exhibits is free; Safari passes cover a number of ticketed exhibits for $12 (a bargain).
First-time visitors to St. Louis are often surprised and amazed to discover Grant's Farm, the 281-acre ancestral estate of the Busch family (yes, Anheuser-Busch) loaded with animals exotic and domestic both in the Tier Garden and the 160-acre Deer Park. Parking is $12 per car, but admission is otherwise free. Oh, and you can visit the Budweiser Clydesdales.
The World Bird Sanctuary features free seasonal shows, nature trails, educational programs, picnic pavilions and live displays of bald eagles, owls, hawks, falcons, vultures parrots reptiles and more. Stop in for the Keeper Talks (9am) and Amazing Animal Encounters (11:30am & 2pm) Sa-Su. Open daily 8am-5pm. Admission is free, and while you're here, take the time to visit adjacent Lone Elk Park, home to elk, bison, deer and more.
Imagine sharing a space with 1,000 fluttering wisps of color and then step inside the Butterfly House and experience the real thing. You'll see Green Birdwings from Australia, Blue Tigers and Green Jays from Southeast Asia, Malachites and Blue Morphos from Central America and many, many more flying, clinging to tropical vegetation, and possibly perching on your nose. Learn more in the Emerson Family Theater showing the 17-minute film. "The Butterfly Effect." Great gift shop.
Not so Wild
A number of attractions feature animals of the domestic variety (the aforementioned Grant's Farm included) in settings ranging from highly structured to delightfully rustic, all of which offer recreational opportunities apart from animal-watching. And they're all free.
The good folks at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, MO (about 40 minutes from downtown St. Louis), make sure you have plenty of hands-on contact with dogs, cats and farm animals in their beautifully designed visitor center, which is equipped with a full-sized barn, hayloft play area, theater, pet center and gift shop. Kids love the canine demonstrations.
Most breeds of barnyard animals are represented at Suson Farm in 98-acre Suson Park, from draft horses to cattle, chickens, pigs and more, plus fishing lakes, picnic areas and a playground—the complete family destination.
Willoughby Heritage Farm in Collinsville, Illinois, (about 20 minutes from St. Louis) features historic structures, original tools, replica gardens, farm animals, antique tractors and 3 miles of hiking trails.