By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 02, 2016 at 9:02 AM

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There’s nothing like kids to get you out to the zoo. Before I had children, I’d been to the Milwaukee County Zoo, of course. A few times.

Once the little ones arrived, I’d often get to the zoo a few times a month. Now, I’m a seasoned veteran of the place. I don’t even have to think about where the lions are, or the badger or the fish building; my feet know right where to go.

I’ve seen the raptor show, watched the chicks through their little incubator window, fed the goats, ridden the train and the Zoomobile, bided my time while the kids played on first the small playset before graduating to the larger one next to it. I’ve spun around on that carousel more times than I can remember.

And yet, on a recent visit the Milwaukee County Zoo managed to offer up experiences I’d never before had there.

Giraffe feeding

You don’t need any special pull to put your hand out and feed a giraffe at the Milwaukee County Zoo. You just need $5.

There are two giraffe feedings daily, at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. and anyone age 4 and up can do it, but try and get your tickets early because space is limited at the feedings (they can only eat so much, you know) and the slots can fill up fast, especially on the busiest zoo days.

Tickets can be purchased at the Giraffe Deck, which is around the south side of the giraffe building. That’s also where the feeding takes place.

The feeding itself happens pretty quickly – you hold out your leaf of lettuce and whichever of the zoo’s four giraffes is up at bat that day snakes its long tongue out to snap it up. A couple more leaves and it’s the next person’s turn.

But still, it’s pretty darned fun getting about as face to face with one of nature’s most unusual, and cute, creations for a moment. Though you might not get to feed her, you’ll could also get an closer look at Zola, the giraffe born at the zoo in April.

"We do this twice a day pretty much through the end of May until middle of October weather permitting," says Zoo Pride volunteer Julia McKinney. "They love it. This is their treat food. He's like feeding a slot machine."

Behind the scenes

A little less common, though very do-able, is a behind the scenes tour of the zoo, which I found really fun and fascinating. I thought I knew the zoo really well, but it turns out there’s a whole other world, not only behind the cages and exhibits, but below them, too.


Pictured above and below: the zoo's subterranean winter quarters.

Several kinds of tours are offered, for a fee. You have to coordinate them in advance with the Zoological Society’s Zoo Pride office, (414) 258-5667.

If I were you, I’d select a tour that includes a visit to the underground winter quarters. Here, you’ll see holding cages for animals that need care, require warmer spaces during the cold months or just need a little time out.


Pictured above: The hatch for dropping feed into the winter quarters. Below: The view of the same hatch from underground.

Down here there are also rooms where animal feed is received through a hatch outside the big cats building, where it rides a chute down to something of a wild animal kitchen, and access to the lion moat, which is the space that separates predator from prey in the open-air exhibit above.

Near the bottom is a big net to catch an unfortunate lions who misjudge the space and find themselves victims of gravity.

During my visit, I also got to see behind the moose exhibit and the wolf exhibit, which offered me by far the best view ever of the typically elusive grey wolf.

Ropes course and zipline

Surely, if you’ve been to the zoo in the past few years, you’ve seen the towering ropes course and zip line that was erected just inside the zoo, after you pass through the U.S. Bank Gathering Place entrance building.

The Sky Trail Ropes Courses and Zip Line is four stories tall and offers a variety of experiences, from the zig zag beams and cargo nets of the course itself, which runs $12, to the 500-foot zip line, which costs $15. A smaller ropes course, called the Sky Tykes Course, is available for kids under 48 inches tall. That one runs $6.

More

Of course, the zoo also offers a wide range of interesting animals to visit, as well as a carousel, a sky glider, pony rides, the Zoomobile tour and more. Complete details are at milwaukeezoo.org.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.