NEW at Memphis Zoo: Touch a stingray
Remember how ready I said I was for spring? The Memphis Zoo is feeling it, too. At the beginning of the month, they shifted to their “summer hour” schedule (open at 9 a.m.; last admission at 5 p.m.; grounds close at 6 p.m.); resumed two seasonal favorites (camel rides and giraffe feedings); and debuted a temporary exhibit with a warm-weather vibe: Stingray Bay.
Inside the zoo, stay left – you’ll find Stingray Bay under a giant white tent between Penguin Rock and Once Upon A Farm (in the rides area). Follow the calypso music to the queue, which winds you past placards introducing the four species you’ll soon meet: cownose rays, Southern rays, bonnethead sharks and banded (spotted) bamboo sharks.
Inside the exhibit, a 17,000-gallon saltwater lagoon houses the animals – 25 cownose and six Southern rays, plus eight sharks. The cownose are the smaller rays; Scarlet, a Southern ray measuring three-and-a-half feet across, evidences the size dominance of her species. Rinse your hands and forearms in the hand-washing station at the entry to the exhibit and reach right into the pool – the rays make frequent laps, and outcroppings around the edge of the lagoon help shorter visitors touch them (the lagoon is only 18 inches deep, which helps, too). The sharks are more elusive (they’re nocturnal, after all) – eye for them along the sides of the lagoon, buried in the sandy bottom.
Nervous? Don’t be. The rays’ barbs are trimmed, so there’s no threat to you. Curious about the bright blue basket in the center of the pool? Those are shark eggs. Wondering about anything else? Ask the docents – they were accessible and full of information during our visit. (And yes, the exhibit features a themed gift shop.)
Plan your visit
Stingray Bay is open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last entry at 5:30 p.m.). Entry is $4 ($3 for Memphis Zoo members), but local Kroger stores are selling a discount ticket combining admission to the zoo and Stingray Bay ($16 for ages 12-59; $12 for ages 2-11 – regular zoo admission is $15 and $10, respectively).
Individual exhibit tickets are available at the front gate and the rides area ticket kiosk (of course, you can purchase ride tickets here, too; in fact, it may be hard to dodge, considering that Stingray Bay is ringed by amusements including a carousel, a dizzying mild-thrill ride and toddler planes and boats).
One more thing to earmark your allowance for: Three to four times daily, at random, Stingray Bay staff conducts feedings. For $2, you can buy a feeding cup and assist. (Sharks are pole-fed by staff only.)
What was the adjacent window-service restaurant, Alton’s Bar-B-Que, has been made over as Ray’s Grille (still good for burgers, sandwiches, ice cream and new items like fish tacos). Touch or feed a stingray, tear through the rides and eat lunch, and you’ve invested maybe two hours. Time to explore the east end of the zoo and stage a Camel Excursion (rides are $5 per person daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) or join a Giraffe Feeding Adventure ($5 per person Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-noon and 2- 3 p.m.).
Have you visited Memphis Zoo lately? What’s your favorite animal or exhibit?