The town of Mendon, Massachusetts will celebrate its 350th anniversary next year. Aside from its rich history, it is also home to one of the best kept secrets in the state.
When you think of local animal parks you probably picture the Franklin Park or Stoneham Zoos, and while they are both world class facilities, Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon is in a class all its own.
Named for the family who has owned the property since 1803, the zoo was once a thriving dairy farm. In the 1930’s the Southwick family patriarch began collecting exotic birds. His love of winged animals eventually inspired him to sell off his dairy herd and focus on his true passion of animal conservation.
Southwick’s Zoo – the largest in New England – opened in 1963. The sprawling zoological park sits on more than 250 acres and boasts spacious, naturalistic habitats for its 115 species. Improvements over the past 20 years have made it a wonderful tourist attraction while still focusing on the needs and longevity of the animals.
The park is open full-time from April to October and features a free petting zoo with African pygmy goats and sheep throughout the off-season. During the warmer months, visitors can see chimpanzees, lions, tigers, giraffes and rhinos in a lush, enriching environment.
Exhibits include a display of North American animals like wild turkeys and elk. The Woodland Express train passes through the exhibit allowing guests to get an up-close view of these animals and many more including the herons, snakes, turtles, and water fowl that live in the native wetlands.
The big cat area features lions, tigers leopards and cheetahs. Aside from boasting New England’s only chimpanzee exhibit, the primate house displays white-handed gibbons, siamangs, mandrills, Schmidt’s guenons, Wolf’s guenons, DeBrazza’s monkeys, squirrel monkeys, cotton-top tamarins and lemurs.
The incredible bird exhibit consists of a walk-through parakeet aviary as well as displays of macaws, cockatoos, conures, eclectus, cockatiels, ostriches, emu, African crowned cranes, flamingos, mandarin ducks, Polish chickens, fancy pigeons, and kookaburra. They also offer live educational presentations about bird training, enrichment, and conservation.
Love giraffes? Learn all about them and even interact with one during a special giraffe encounter.
A portion of the proceeds earned from a rhinoceros encounter go to support conservation of the animals through the International Rhino Foundation. Aside from the zoo’s genuine efforts to ensure the survival of the species they house, a strong emphasis is placed on educating the public to do the same.
They have partnered with EARTH Ltd (Environmental Awareness of Resources and Threatened Habitats) in order to offer visitors the best in conservation instruction. Live animal presentations are performed at the EARTH Discovery Center, covering topics like ecology and adaptation.
Through the mobile outreach program, educators travel around the state in Southwick’s snazzy ZooMobiles with up to eight ambassador animals in tow. They visit schools and libraries to educate the public about the importance of conserving the earth’s wonderful animal species. Southwick’s Zoo also offers spring and summer learning programs for children grades K – 8.
A few new attractions on the horizon include a reptile and insect walk, fresh bird shows, and a newly constructed restaurant and event building. Visit their website and plan your next family or business outing!
Featured Image via Facebook/Southwick’s Zoo