Cleveland has yet, another new project to be proud of. The Perkins Wildlife Center & Woods Garden at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History now brings visitors close to living animals and birds high in the trees and surrounded by garden plants.
My husband and I visited a few weeks after the opening last fall. Admission is included in the museum’s general admission price. We visited on a Friday afternoon. There were other visitors but it wasn’t crowded. We were able to view most of the animals on our own and without others crowded around.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of zoos. I have very mixed feelings about keeping wild things in cages. I believe wild animals want to live in the wild and I find the usual argument, that zoos give people an opportunity to see different species they would never see otherwise, a weak excuse at best. Especially in this day of high tech video and widespread computer access, seeing an animal “in person” isn’t a necessity. Yes, I enjoy seeing these creatures but I also feel uncomfortable seeing them in artificial environments and I can’t help but wonder about their mental well-being.
But the Perkins Wildlife Center at the Natural History Museum isn’t your typical zoo. It’s a small space with a limited number of species. The walkway and enclosures were designed to show the animals up close. The pens are not huge but they are roomy and there are overhead tube trails that allow animals to move from one section to another giving them even more space to roam. More important to my sense of fairness for the rights of animals is the fact that none of these animals are able to be released into the wild. Some, like the porcupine, were born in captivity and haven’t the skills needed to survive life in the outer world. Others have been permanently injured, like the owl with only one good eye. Knowing that there is no alternative for these animals makes it easier to accept their captivity.
We began our visit at the eagle enclosure. A large bald eagle was perched atop a stand. She spent several minutes picking apart her afternoon meal which appeared to be a small rabbit. It was a rare sight to see and fascinating to watch the way she gripped the dead prey tightly in her talons as if it might try to escape. A golden eagle sharing the same cage slept nearby, unaware and uninterested in her friend’s lunch.
We watched two river otters; their playful underwater antics could be seen through a glass wall. Various species of owls were fascinating to see up close. Although native to Ohio, these elusive creatures are not common sights. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an owl in the wild.
Looking over the railing allows visitors to peer down below into a habitat where coyotes live. There were several large shelters amidst the trees. We spotted two coyotes napping beneath the shrubs.
We had an up-close view of a fox, two sleeping bob cats, raccoons, and a variety of birds.
The “garden” part of the Perkins Garden had been newly planted at the time of our visit and, with the exception of already established trees, it was pretty sparse. I expect however, that it will grow into beautiful garden displays.
We took our time wandering and visited some of the animals more than once. I would guess that the average visitor may spend about an hour viewing the animals.
There are many other fantastic sections of this museum, that you and your family won’t be able to resist. Plan to spend at least a half day here. Kids and adults both will find plenty to hold their interest.