Back for its fifth year, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is bringing lifelike replicas of dinosaurs and other creatures from prehistoric eras to visitors who will learn just what it was like when they were living.
Back for its fifth appearance at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Dinosauria is bringing history to the present day, featuring about 20 animals with audience favorites such as the T-rex and Triceratops on display.
Walking through the Time Tunnel, explorers are transported back to the forests of the Permian epoch. From there, they are able to walk through the Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous and Pleistocene periods, each with new surprises lurking around every corner. The prehistoric dinosaurs are quite realistic with elaborate animatronic designs.
Leanne White, director of education for the zoo, said the exhibit was created to give guests an adventure they could not find anywhere else in the state.
“Everyone loves coming to Dinosauria,” White said. “Even if you’re an adult, you’re transported back to when you were a kid learning about these things for the very first time.”
New this year the zoo also is showcasing Ice Age creatures like the Woolly Mammoth and the Smilodon.
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While walking through the path, explorers can look at their online field guide to get a more in-depth understanding of not only what these animals looked like, but what environments they lived in, what their diets were and the types of plants that grew when they roamed the earth.
To get as close to the real picture as possible, paleontologists at Dino Don Inc. did extensive research on the appearance and habits of dinosaurs. Now developed, the animatronics embody lifelike sounds and movements of the creatures.
Don Lessem, CEO and president of Dino Don, is also the founder of the Dinosaur Society and the Jurassic Foundation. In addition to writing about 50 dinosaur books, Lessem has worked with Steven Spielberg on the set of Jurassic Park as an adviser.
Lessem was at the exhibit Thursday and said he was excited to see Dinosauria come to life at the Jacksonville Zoo, which is only the second zoo in the country following the Bronx Zoo in New York to feature lifesize dinosaurs.
One of the dinosaurs on display named in honor of Lessem, the Lessemsaurus, is the first created of its kind and was one of the most challenging to make.
“Each one of these is made by hand, not molded,” Lessem said. “There’s so much research that has been done by the scientists we work with to give people the most authentic image possible.”
Lessem told guests the Brachiosaurus on display is the tallest replica in the world at 65 feet.
Kyle Newsome, senior exhibits technician, discussed the additional prepwork that transformed an empty part of the zoo into what people read about in textbooks.
Starting almost a year ago, professionals came together to start creating the concepts for this year’s exhibit.
“This time we wanted to enhance the experience and make it bigger and better,” Newsome said. “This is a new experience, so our goal is to make it more immersive as if you’re going on a real adventure.”
Crushed concrete and other materials were brought in to create a naturalistic environment for Dinosauria. Because some of the dinosaurs weigh around 5,000 pounds, special equipment was required to bring them in and about 20 people had to work at one time just to put them together.
Overall approximately 100 volunteers and 50 staff members collaborated to make the exhibit happen.
Explorers end their journey through the eras at Base Camp where they can apply their new paleontological knowledge. Children and adults can create a digital dinosaur of their own, dig for fossils in large sandpits and take a piece of their adventure home with them.
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Dinosauria extends through other parts of the zoo such as the T-Rex Grill and the 4D Theater for a special dinosaur showing, “The Lost World.”
Visitors only have a few months to come and see the exhibit, as it will be up through July 5.
In addition to zoo admission, there is a $5 fee for the general public and $4 for zoo members to see Dinosauria. Tickets are available starting Friday in-person and online at JacksonvilleZoo.org/Dinosauria. This year the zoo is offering a Frequent Explorer card for those who want to see the exhibit more than once. The card is $25 for the public and $20 for members.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has been working for over a century as a nonprofit organization in the city that donates to about 45 conservation initiatives across Florida and the world.
Starting in 1914 with just one fawn, the zoo has grown to about 2,000 rare and exotic animals. With 1,000 plant species, it houses the largest botanical garden in Northeast Florida.
In its growth, the zoo can now say prehistoric creatures are added to its list.
Sara Albertelli: (904) 359-4097
This story originally published to jacksonville.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.