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Get close up to curious critters

Oregon Zoo upgrades excitement, experience for the summer visitor

Most animals at Portland's Oregon Zoo probably couldn't care less what season it is. They have climate-controlled shelters, plenty of food and loving, year-round care from the zookeepers. But for human visitors to the zoo, summertime means a number of extra-special attractions. Tropical butterflies, a thrill ride and up close and personal encounters with animals are some of the warm-weather options.

The Deep Sea ride is new to the zoo. It's part amusement park ride, part computer-animated science movie. Visitors enter an 18-seat theater and strap themselves into plush seats that lurch and shake, mirroring the onscreen motion of a submersible descending to the deepest depths of the ocean. The audience is part of the submersible 'crew,' and the onscreen narration describes the underwater environment.

The actual ride is five minutes long and recommended for children ages 4 and older. Lori Ford of Guest Services Inc. notes, 'If the ride gets too thrilling, guests can just raise their hand and one of the ride monitors will turn off your seat movement.'

The zoo created the ride with guidance from Smithsonian Institution zoologists to ensure scientific accuracy, but many of the facts in the film may be lost on the quaking audience. The jolting chair, excited shrieks and suspense-filled battle between a sperm whale and a giant squid get the adrenaline rushing more than they do brain cells pumping Ñ but it is summer break, after all.

A completely opposite aesthetic to the thrill ride is achieved in the Winged Wonders summer exhibit. It debuted last year and resembles an otherworldly scene from a fairy tale. Visitors enter a large netted shelter dotted with benches, little trees, flowers and small streams. More than 500 butterflies of all sizes and colors noiselessly flit about. At the far end, a large glass cabinet houses chrysalises, the unborn butterflies. It is like a live-action museum with butterflies emerging from cocoons throughout the day.

Charis Henrie, education program coordinator and manager of the insect program, points out the full-length mirror at the shelter's exit, saying, 'Visitors need to spot check for hitchhikers, or butterflies that have landed on them, before they leave.' While it's best for the exotic butterflies to remain at the zoo, there are displays on how to set up your home garden to attract more butterflies.

For the ardent animal appreciator, the zoo also is offering Behind the Scenes Encounters, which enable visitors to participate in activities ranging from elephant washing to sampling monkey chow. There are three levels in the program ranging from One Paw to Three Paw tours, with increases in price, age requirement and activity level. Currently, only the One Paw tours are up and running. Tickets for the 30-minute tour are available at the zoo the day of the visit. The Two Paw and Three Paw tours, which include direct animal contact, will start later this month.

Contact Tina Satter at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .