ZooMontana and Botanical Gardens - Billings, MT - Only Zoological/Botanical Habitat in the Northern Rockies
ZooMontana is a zoological and botanical habitat and garden attraction located in Billings, MT. It is currently the only authentic zoo of its kind in the Northern Rockies with nothing else similar existing within a radius of 600 miles. Billings was chosen to be the zoo's location because of the area's economic and population status. ZooMontana was conceived as an idea in 1982, officially opened the doors of its 70-acre facility to the public in 1995, and welcomes an approximate 70,000 visitors each year. It is also boasts an official accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, an honor bestowed upon only 10% of the nation's zoos.
ZooMontana was actually designed to be less of a typical zoo and more of a pleasant, natural habitat for both the animals and the plants involved. Special importance was placed on the realization of an effective and solid nature conservation plan, as well as on the development of a complete world class education program for the enrichment of the public. Exhibits are created to be as natural and realistic as possible, treating visitors to a look at the animals in a setting that closely mimics nature. This is accomplished by cleverly separating patrons from the animals using strategically-placed natural barriers such as cliffs and ravines.
Early on, a decision was made to include only animal species that would naturally be comfortable in the climate and conditions to be found in the Billings area. These not only include many animal species native to the Northern Rockies, such as bighorn sheep and bears, but also exotic species native to Northern Asia and Europe where the conditions are comparable, such as the red panda, the pygmy marmoset, and the Siberian tiger. The ratio of indigenous animals to exotic animals is roughly 50/50, creating a unique collection that is not only interesting and appealing to patrons, but also more cost-effective for zoo staff to maintain and care for.
Currently the zoo contains quite a few completed habitats with even more in progress. Completed ones include but are not limited to natural exhibits for sika deer, river otters, wolverines, red pandas, bald eagles, eastern grey wolves, horned owls, bighorn sheep, and waterfowl. Scheduled enrichment activities that both benefit the animals and educate zoo guests also take place at regular times starting Saturdays at 11. These include demonstrations that allow visitors to witness animal reactions to stimuli such as scent, food, and specialized objects such as toys.
In addition to the animal habitats, ZooMontana also features a number of beautiful and well-orchestrated botanical exhibits as well. These include the Sensory Garden, a 1-acre area with a wide variety of indigenous and exotic plants specially chosen for their abilities to engage all of the five senses; Dottie's Garden, a combination memorial and botanical project showcasing especially hardy species of Montana plants that are able to survive with little water and stand up to fluctuation weather conditions; and the Montana Garden, a work in progress offering visitors a chance to view, experience and learn about a variety of plant species native to Montana.
Last, but not least, ZooMontana is also home to a charming early-century barn and homestead house. This has been designated a family area and features 11 different species of domestic animals such as rabbits, sheep, goats, and chickens. In the spring, visitors are also treated to a chance to view and interact with baby animals as well.
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