Spring marks the beginning of the Zoofari African Wildlife Adventures in the Watani Grasslands. Starting in April, tour-goers can spot exotic species like the fringe-eared oryx. photograph by North Carolina Zoo
Payton, a 1,000-pound polar bear, rests on a bed in his chilled cave in the Rocky Coast exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo, just feet from the glass that separates him from visitors. “He’s right there!” says a boy on a field trip, pointing and staring at Payton’s dinner plate-size paws. Nearly every day since the zoo opened in 1974, schoolchildren have been amazed by decades-old reptiles, chimpanzees swinging from vines, and the more than 1,700 other animals that reside there. The zoo’s diverse habitats sit on 2,600 wooded acres near Asheboro and serve as centers of discovery, rehabilitation, and conservation for the creatures that have found a sanctuary — and plenty of fans — in Randolph County. Strategically placed in the geographic center of North Carolina, the zoo offers free admission for students on school trips, meaning that generations of North Carolinians have made unforgettable memories at one of our state’s wildest destinations.
In 2018, the rare birth of a southern white rhinoceros at the North Carolina Zoo left staff members wondering how to name the new calf. The zoo released a public poll with a selection of names inspired by female leaders, from which three finalists were chosen. The newborn’s father, Stormy, got the final say when he selected a treat-laden pole inscribed with the name of a 19th-century southern African queen, “Nandi” — an ode to the species’ origins. Crowd-sourcing names has helped the zoo strengthen the connection between its animals and the community. In 2021, zoo fans named a new litter of red wolves — an endangered species now only found in the wild on the Albemarle Peninsula — choosing from a list of Southern waterways. Visitors can now see the litter, including Eno, Fisher, and Catawba, in the North America section of the zoo.
Lights, camera, animals in action!
Fade in: Zookeeper Deb reaches a target pole into a large enclosure to guide C’sar, who, at 48 years, is the oldest male African elephant in North America. The blind elephant is practicing his regular yoga moves for Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina, a docuseries following the animals’ caretakers as they navigate health problems, births, and new arrivals. Released in 2020 and streaming on Disney+, the show explores the zoo’s inner workings. Watch veterinarians draw blood from a lion’s tail, learn about why the gorilla troop can only have one silverback male, and see the staff build trust and bond with the animals we know and love.
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Deep in the remote Three Sisters Swamp of the Black River stands an ancient old-growth forest. For decades, a famed bald cypress, dated to 372 AD and known as Methuselah, was its patriarch — until two even older trees were discovered.