Standing in the huge, humid Butterfly House, your kids will be entranced by the sight of coloured butterflies drifting all around them. You whisper to them to keep still and hold out their arms. And then it happens, a butterfly alights on an outstretched hand. The zoo tries to create enclosures as close to natural habitats as possible. Walking along the Elephant Trail you have the distinct feeling that you’ve landed in Thailand, and a visit to the seal enclosure feels like a trip to the coast.
■ Meet-the-keeper talks and feed times throughout the day. Check the website for the timetable and for announcements about additional talks.
■ The entertaining monkeys and meerkats – always favourites with kids.
■ A walk through the kangaroo enclosures, where free-roaming kangaroos often hop up to you, close enough to pat. Look for joeys poking out of their mothers’ pouches.
The elephants’ Asian village enclosure is unusual because it shows not just animals, but a human side to the story. When people encroach on forests where wild animals live, it can bring difficulty and danger to the humans as well the animals. In Asia, herds of wild elephants sometimes invade plantations to feed on fruit growing on the trees, causing thousands of dollars of damage. conservationists need to find solutions that will protect the elephants without disadvantaging people.
■ Allow a full day if you want to look at all of the exhibits.
■ Ask about complimentary guided tours run by Friends of the Zoos volunteers.
■ The website has lots of interesting information about the various animals, as well as a map of the zoo and information about a range of animal encounters available at extra cost; tickets can be purchased online.
■ If your kids are keen for close encounters, the Animal Photo Experiences are available for an extra fee. Book ahead on (03) 9285 9458 or call into the Zoo Photos office from 10am. You can have a photo with a giant tortoise (11.00am), meerkats (11.30am, minimum age 5 years, maximum four people) or kangaroos (2.00pm). Wear flat, enclosed shoes and avoid wearing strong perfume or bright colours, which could disturb the animals.
■ If you want time out from animals, the zoo also has a lovely playground and a carousel.
■ There are food outlets on site, but the prices are high. You might want to bring a picnic and eat in the rotunda.
■ The zoo holds outdoor twilight concerts during the summer months.
■ Car parking is available (small charge) or you can take a tram or train to the door.
■ Melbourne Zoo is one of three zoos run by Zoos Victoria. The main native animal exhibits are located at Healesville Sanctuary and there is a safari-style zoo at Werribee Open Range Zoo.