Many zoos around the country offer guests a chance to see prehistoric animals alongside their living ones. This is thanks to the skilled craftsman and animatronic wizards of several companies including Billings Productions, Inc. who offer their clients a selection of over three hundred different prehistoric animals to choose from. As of this date, I’ve seen robotic dinosaurs at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, the North Carolina Zoo, Franklin Park Zoo in New England, and a few in Milwaukee. Although I love Natural history museums and their collection of fossils, these life-like representations are a great way to envision yourself standing before living ones. The Milwaukee County Zoo is about two hours north of me and I make a point to visit them at least twice a year. It’s a decent sized park with elephants, bears, and a large collection of big cats so never disappoints. They’ve featured dinosaurs and even giant bugs every couple years or so, though always with a different selection. The cost is $3 per person (in addition to their regular admission fees) and well worth it!
My kids and I were supposed to do this on Father’s Day but, due to the 100-degree temps, were inspired to spend a cool day indoors instead. I rescheduled our trip for a day forecasted as “cloudy” and a far more manageable temp of 76. It all sounded perfect until we were sitting at the breakfast table that morning and heard a loud rumble. I assumed it was a coming from a nearby stockyard until the rain began battering our patio. Despite the monsoon, we were determined to see these dinosaurs and set off, into the tempest.
The drive was rough but the rain miraculously stopped just as we entered Milwaukee and would remain dry the duration of our stay. We spent the first half of the day touring the park with a friend of mine named Kathy who’s a Milwaukee Zoo volunteer and knows the animals like the back of her hand. After a few hours of enjoying the animals and her insights, we began following a set of large, white theropod tracks to the exhibit. At this point, Kathy gave me a big hug and bid me adieu as she’s no fan of dinosaurs. It’s always baffled me how many of my fellow zoo pals can be such big animal lovers and yet adverse to the extinct ones.
The entrance was highlighted by a brachiosaurus that seemed to stare at us as we approached. Our “Jurassic Journey” was about to begin though, as customary with popular culture these days, it’s a rather loose term since most of what we’d see was “Cretaceous.” I guess “Milwaukee Zoo’s Mesozoic March” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
After purchasing our tickets, we encountered a special “photo op” dinosaur that kids could climb and pose with. The last time I did their dino exhibit it was a theropod but this year boasted a colorful Pachyrhinosaurus instead.
I think my favorite new addition was Quetzalcoatlus. It was great seeing the life-sized one at the Toledo Zoo a couple months back and now I had the honor of not only seeing a second version but one that moved and made sounds as well. I particularly loved the soft, downy feathers around its neck and the vocal hatchlings begging for food at its feet.
Here are a few more of the twenty dinosaurs featured this year at the Milwaukee Zoo!
Both Milwaukee Zoo and Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo feature Mold-a-Rama machines which I’ve mentioned here before. I love these cheap, plastic souvenirs and this year they offered a purple hadrosaur to add to the collection. This is a smaller version of the old Sinclair mold I have and discussed a couple years back.
In addition to movement and vocalizations, a couple of these robo-monsters also “spit” water; in this instance Suchomimus and a Dilophosaurus. I’m thinking if we’d shown up on that sweltering Father’s Day these would have been our favorite ones. I was happy that the zoo had signage next to their Dilophosaurus stating that fan-faces and venom spitting were pop-culture (Jurassic Park) fiction.
Not far from Suchomimus was a Sarcosuchus – which I’m famous for mixing up. You can’t really blame me since Sarcosuchus is a crocodilian and Suchomimus is a dinosaur whose name means “crocodile mimic.”
Quetzalcoatlus wasn’t the only Mesozoic mama in this exhibit, Iguanodon, Amargasaurus, and T-Rex were “caring” for clutches of their own.
My favorites were their new feathered dinosaurs, Utahraptor and Citipati. The feathers added a whole new dimension to these animals and I loved the details that went into them.
Citipati, a species of oviraptor…
Before leaving, they also featured a dinosaur stripped of its outer coverings and revealing the mechanics within. Guests could then manipulate the robot via a set of kid-friendly controls.
Like most exhibits, you had to “exit through the gift shop” though you’d never have to twist my arm to do so when it comes to dinosaurs. This one had a pretty good selection of plush and apparel but no models outside some rubber triceratops and a big T-Rex that was going for around 90 bucks.
Milwaukee Zoo’s “Dinosaurs! A Jurassic (mostly Cretaceous) Journey” will be running through September 3rd. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely a Prehistoric Pit Stop worth taking! If you can’t make it, feel free to check out my video footage below. Otherwise, it’s always better to see for yourself!
Is your local zoo also featuring dinosaurs? If you have photos or narrative you’d like to share, send to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post em’ here!