is approximately 120-years-old, zoo officials said.
Patrons participating in the encounter program feed
Al carrots with the help of a stick, which keeps
fingers well away from Al's teeth, April 16, 2013.
— Atlantans are walking on the wild side this spring,
enjoying opportunities for up-close encounters with
dolphins, otters, pandas, Komodo dragons and other exotic
creatures great and small.
the Georgia Aquarium and at Zoo Atlanta, visitors can
order up these boutique experiences with the wildlife on
exhibit. Most involve feeding snacks to the animals. Some
even include an opportunity to touch.
like herring!" says Michael Bernstein when he finds
out what’s on the menu for morning snacks.
Mike. The herring is all for Lily, a 9-year-old dolphin
who is part of the "AT&T Dolphin Tales" show
at the Georgia Aquarium.
we opened ‘Dolphin Tales’ we were always asked ‘can
we touch them?’" says Michael Hunt, director of
animal training, as the Bernstein family makes its way to
a secluded tank near the "Dolphin Tales"
theater. "The guests wanted to get closer."
recent weekday morning 13-year-old twins Emily and Zack
and parents Mike and Melissa Bernstein are getting ready
to do just that. After stepping into a tray filled with a
disinfectant solution and removing any dangling jewelry,
the group steps to the side of a pool to receive
instructions from trainers Lloyd Dodge and Ann Hoedt. Keep
your hands away from the dolphin’s mouth, they are told,
and avoid her eyes, her ears and her genital area.
the other side of a high wall an audience is assembling
for the 11 a.m. show, which involves lights, music and
human and dolphin performers. Lily is a stellar athlete,
which is made clear by her leaps and her ability to dance
backward on her tail. She is also a great actress, nodding
and "laughing" on cue.
kneeling at the edge of the pool, holds out her hands to
grasp Lily’s flippers, and the two sway back and forth
as if dancing. Lily receives a fishy treat after each
dolphin encounter comes with a primer on ocean
conservation and wise behavior with dolphins in the wild.
black bears, dolphins are natural freeloaders, and can
become accustomed to begging food off of fishing boats,
which puts the animals in danger and sets a bad example
for their offspring.
says people should never feed a dolphin in the wild.
in captivity at the Georgia Aquarium eat
restaurant-quality fish, he added.
they get scared?" asks Melissa Bernstein.
work a long time to build relationships and trust,"
says Hoedt, dressed in the Georgia Aquarium’s
distinctive black and cobalt wet suit. The waterproof
attire came in handy after Lily gave her visitors a good
is a great family activity," said Melissa. "What’s
nice is all four of us enjoyed it."
a 550-pound tortoise named Big Al silently extends his
tree-trunk legs and rises to his full three-foot height,
he seems like an armor-plated scissor lift, with a
says Meredith Daviston, waiting inches away, with a sweet
potato slice on a stick.
your feet," says Zoo Atlanta employee David Brothers.
"Believe me, if he steps on your foot, you won’t
Big Al moves slowly, and waits quite patiently while
Daviston’s 5-year-old son Wilson gently strokes his
Daviston family, including Meredith’s husband, John, and
their 2-year-old daughter, Ruby, are getting a hands-on
look at a 120-year-old reptile, one of three Aldabra
tortoises at Zoo Atlanta.
tortoises are among a handful of animals at the zoo that
are part of the "Wild Encounter" program, Prices
for the meet-and-greets range from $35 for a one-on-one
with a tortoise to $150 for a closer look at one of the
zoo’s giant pandas. (The tortoise encounter is the only
one that includes touching. Despite their cuddly looks,
pandas are not for petting.) Each encounter is guided by
an expert on the species, and comes with a wealth of
he assembles a series of snacks for Al and his fellow
tortoise, Tex, Brothers tells of the maritime trade off
the east coast of Africa, and how hungry sailors often
took Aldabra tortoises on board as a source of nutrition,
knowing the animals could stay alive for months without
food or water.
Wilson is comfortable with the behemoth tortoise, his
sister clings steadfastly to her mother’s neck.
you scared?" Meredith asks little Ruby, who nods a
advises the Davistons they can help the endangered
tortoise and other species by avoiding any products made
with tortoise-shell, and by thinking twice before buying a
pet store turtle.
stores that claim their turtles are captive-born
frequently sell turtles taken from the wild," he
says, "which adversely affects the populations."
AQUARIUM: The dolphin encounter at the Georgia Aquarium is
open to patrons 7 years and older; those younger than 16
must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets are $59.95.
Admission to the dolphin encounter does not include
general admission access to the Aquarium or to the
"AT&T Dolphin Tales" show.
with sea otters and beluga whales and opportunities to
swim and dive with the whale sharks are also available.
Aquarium hours: 10-5 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 9-6 p.m.
Saturday. Admission to the aquarium: $24.95-$29.95.
Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St. NW, Atlanta, 404-581-4000,