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Cincinnati Zoo to open African exhibit June 29

If this week’s visit was any indication, it isn’t just the children who will get a kick out of interacting with exotic and interesting animals.

When staffers from the Cincinnati Zoo stopped at our office in Dayton this week to promote their upcoming Africa exhibit, the media folks lined up like wide-eyed kids to greet Cue Ball (a ball python), Goblin (a white-faced scops owl), Boots (a leopard tortoise) and two giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

“It feels like a moving necklace,” said a grinning Kaity Conner, a television intern from Ohio University who’d just had a snake wrapped around her neck.

“She likes to be on your neck because it’s warm,” explained Kate Olukalns, coordinator for the zoo’s Wild Encounters. “But the less screaming or sudden movements you make, the better.”

The Cincinnati Zoo, rated eighth in the country by Parents Magazine in 2012, will host its largest exhibit opening on June 29 when “Africa” opens to the public. It’s Phase III of a $21 million five-phase project that, when completed, will be the largest exhibit on the zoo grounds.

The exhibit will include a herd of Maasai giraffe and a newly-expanded Giraffe Deck with a covered treehouse that allows visitors to get closer than ever to the zoo’s tallest residents. The two new African lions will have their own Pride rock, a la “The Lion King.”

“Visitors will come face-to-face with the lions through a glass wall in their new 11,200-square-foot exhibit,” explained the zoo’s Public Relations Manager Tiffany Barnes.

The new African cheetah exhibit features grasslands, a waterfall and a rippling creek. There’s Base Camp Cafe — the zoo’s new African-themed dining facility — that will feature more dining space and a new, expanded outside deck overlooking the African savanna.

The exhibit also will include a Circle of Love animal encounter open daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that will give visitors the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the zoo residents like those giant cockroaches.

“If we didn’t have these we would all be living under a pile of trash!” said Conner, who studied zoology at Ohio State University.

Last year, 1.4 million visited the Cincinnati Zoo, which is open every day of the year except Christmas.

Watch for a complete wrap-up of the new exhibit in our Life section in July.

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