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Family Fun in Indy

Fast Lane at the Zoo

New Animals Racing into Town

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May 01, 2010
FAST defines the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Also coming this month will be a new cat in town that can go from zero to 40 mph in three strides. In fact, the cheetah has been known to reach speeds of 70mph in three seconds. One stride is equal to about 25 feet. That is almost as long as two car-lengths. It's no wonder race car driver Tony Stewart is fascinated by this beautiful animal. In fact, The Tony Stewart Foundation is providing operational support through a conservation education grant, while Zoo benefactors Polly Hix and Tony Fair provided the $2 million funding for building the exhibit.

While Indy Cars zip around the track preparing for the Indy 500, five cheetahs will be nestling in to their new home at the Zoo on Memorial Day weekend. The exhibit will be located in the Plains Biome of the Zoo and visitors will never be more than 40 feet away from these golden-eyed cats. One of the exhibit's most interactive features will be called, "Race-a-Cheetah." Visitors will be able to run on a track against an array of LED lights that represent the speed of a cheetah. At the end of the race, guests will find out if they could outrun a cheetah. And since we're talking racing, Tony Stewart will be featured in the graphics and signs for this activity, and all net proceeds from Race a Cheetah will go to support the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia.

The wild population of these animals is in great danger with less than 10,000 alive today. Scarier still is that some think wild cheetahs could be extinct within the next 20 years. The Zoo is working with one of the best-known conservationists in the world, Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, to save them. Part of the problem is that farmers are killing cheetahs to try to save their livestock. The Zoo will have a performance area where demonstrations will show how special guard dogs are used to protect livestock from free-roaming cheetahs in Africa.

In addition to the Cheetah exhibit, the Zoo is adding some fun new critters to its collection – bat-eared foxes, Eastern yellow-billed hornbills and wildebeests. The fox is named after its enormous ears, which it uses to catch the tiny insects and other small prey. The hornbill bird has an oversize, downward pointing bill that looks like the horn of a cow. And, the wildebeest is a species of antelope that has large, thick horns, spiky manes and long, white beards.

While the cheetahs blur past, some very important tortoises will be making strides of their own. The Aldabras "Lyn" and "A.J.," that you may remember from the Zoo's annual version of the Indianapolis 500 mile race, have retired from the racing scene. Instead, eight radiated tortoises will hit the track for the 28th annual Zoopolis 500 presented by the American Dairy Association. The race will be held on Wednesday (May 26, 2010) before the automotive race with Andretti Autosport Indy 500 driver Tony Kanaan as the Grand Marshall. The tortoises compete to reach the checkered flag and a full plate of fruit. Pre-race activities will take place in the Dean's Encounters Arena from 11 to 11:30 a.m., and will include visits with mascots and chats with the Zoo's tortoise experts, as well as pictures with a Pace Car and the Indy 500 Princesses at the Zoo entrance beginning at 10 a.m.

Youngsters who are especially fascinated by animals will want to check out Adventure Tours that can be scheduled before a visit to the Indianapolis Zoo. These special behind the scenes tours begin in June and will give visitors a chance to encounter animals in a new way, go on stage for a Dolphin Show as well as an opportunity to meet an animal up close and personal. Throughout the day, those who participate in the Adventure Tours will be directed to three different experiences. Each tour will allow the guest to step behind the scenes where he or she will see areas of the Zoo most people never get a chance to see. The cost for an Adventure Tour is $50 per person. Zoo admission and parking are not included.

The popular "Butterflies presented by Citizens Energy Group" show returns to the Indianapolis Zoo this year and runs through September 7. Thousands of colorful, fluttering butterflies representing some 300 species will soar through the air in the White River Gardens' Hilbert Conservatory. And this year, visitors will get to participate in a scavenger hunt involving the butterflies. The emergence chamber will now be centrally located so visitors can have a front row seat to the newly transformed butterflies being released into the Conservatory.

Here's a little tip when visiting the Zoo, make sure you plan your visit around the time of the dolphin show. They'll be able to tell you specific times as you go in the front gate. My suggestion is to visit the animals first because they are most active in the morning during/right after feeding time.

And don't forget, there is special programming throughout the year that includes Animals and All That Jazz (live music performed in the middle of the Zoo during extended hours), ZooBoo (in which cute little ghosts and goblins wear their Halloween costumes and trick or treat at the Zoo), Christmas at the Zoo (visit with Santa, enjoy thousands of light displays, listen to holiday music, see a holiday-themed dolphin show, watch the model trains) and much, much more.

Summer hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Thursdays and new this summer – extended hours on the weekends of 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Friday through Sunday. Admission is $14.50 adults, seniors and youth $9.50, parking is $6.

Kimberly Harms has four children (5-24) along with a grandchild and is the associate director of media relations at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, www.visitindy.com. You can follow her on Twitter @kimberlyharms.

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