#TravelTuesday – Audubon Nature Institute provides insight into sharks, bears, and werewolves

No trip to any major metropolitan area is complete without a visit to the local zoo. More and more cities are modernizing their zoological parks to make them into mini-oasis from the urban clutter, and the Audubon Nature Institute is no exception.

The Institute is different, however, in that it is composed of four separate attractions; the Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy IMAX Theatre, and Audubon Insectarium.

The oldest, Audubon Zoo, is located in the center of the aptly named Audubon Park, at the edge of the Garden District. This amazing facility features a wide variety of animals from all across the globe, with a special focus on animals that call Louisiana home. It has a large alligator exhibit, as well as cougars, foxes, and even a rougarou!

The zoo also features a world class aviary, African savana, and the World of Primates, which includes monkeys, gorillas, and orangutan. The Asian domain offers a glimpse of sun bears, elephants, and a rare white tiger, while the Jaguar Jungle and South American Pampas show how our wild animal friends to the South live.

The Audubon Zoo also features numerous architectural features dating back more than a century, and even provides a way for kids (and kids at heart) to cool down in their Cool Zoo; a small water park located within the gates of the zoo. (Additional admission charge applies.)

For a good overview of the attraction, take a ride on the Swamp Train. This narrated journey takes you behind the scenes of the South American Pampas, loops in front of the popular Louisiana Swamp exhibit and then weaves its way around the sea lion pool and reptile house.

The train is handicap accessible and departs every 30 minutes from the Carousel train depot and the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit.

Three stops along the route include the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit, Sea Lions and Reptile Encounter. Tickets are only $5 for adults and $4 for children.

Located on the foot of Canal Street, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas celebrates its 25th birthday this year. It opened on September 1, 1990, and since then, more than 23 million people have visited this popular New Orleans attraction.

In 1984, Audubon Nature Institute explored the idea of opening up the New Orleans riverfront and building an aquarium dedicated to the aquatic environments of South, Central and North America. Aquarium construction began on January, 14, 1988, with officials driving the first steel piling.

On opening day, the Aquarium welcomed 13,623 visitors, breaking all opening day records for any U.S. aquarium. By early 1991, just six months after its debut, the aquarium reached its first-year attendance goal of 868,000 visitors.

“Twenty-five years later, the Aquarium and Woldenberg Park have far exceeded our expectations, transforming the riverfront into the city’s ‘front porch’ and a popular gathering place for our community,” said Audubon Nature Institute CEO and President Ron Forman. “Audubon attractions have forever changed the New Orleans waterfront.”

Forman adds, “By fulfilling our mission of conservation, education, and recreation, Audubon Nature Institute has become an anchor for family tourism in New Orleans, providing an economic impact of nearly $600 million for the city.”

Since the 1990 grand opening, the Aquarium has had many memorable moments, including the arrival of rescued and rehabilitated Southern sea otters, the joyful homecoming of the Aquarium’s penguins following Hurricane Katrina, and the opening of the Great Maya Reef.

“Audubon Aquarium of the America has become a key attraction for not only the citizens of the region but also visitors from all over the globe,” said Mark Romig, President and CEO of New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation. “Year after year, it has provided the wonders of the sea with a fun, educational approach, and our visitors have consistently ranked it as one of the top reasons for visiting New Orleans. New Orleans’ reputation as a family destination has grown tremendously due to the Aquarium.”

Stephen Perry, President and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and VisitorBureau adds: “Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is one of our city’s most beloved attractions by visitors and citizens alike. It is an anchor family destination at the edge of the historic French Quarter which has become a catalyst for efforts to reinvent the riverfront area near the foot of Canal so that our city’s most valuable real estate can reach its full potential. I have no doubt that the next 25 years will bring even more growth and world-class programming to the Aquarium of the Americas.”

Audubon Nature Institute encourages the public to share their favorite Aquarium moments using the hashtags #fintasticmemories and #audubonaquarium. For more information, visit www.AudubonInstitute.org.

Located just down the street from the aquarium is the Audubon Insectarium. Housed within the walls of the United States Customs House, this unique institution allows visitors to get up close and personal with some of the members of the insect world.

Giant insects from all over the planet have a new home in New Orleans at Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Visitors can now marvel at the enormity of some of the world’s largest moths, cockroaches and beetles currently on exhibit.

The new arrivals include a colossal collection of the world’s largest insects, including atlas moths, giant burrowing cockroaches and Hercules beetles.

“In the more than six years that Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium has been open, we’ve been able to show off giant millipedes and katydids to our guests, and that’s been terrific,” said Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium Animal and Visitor Programs Manager Zack Lemann. “But to finally get ahold of Atlas moths that we’re both importing and hoping to raise ourselves, burrowing roaches from Australia – in addition to a spectacular male Hercules beetle– is amazing. This is a trio of phenomenally neat insects!”

Lemann adds, “We’ve got the heaviest species of roach in the world, a beetle that’s among the heaviest of all, and a moth whose wings basically have it in a two-way tie for largest moth on the planet. We’re thrilled to be able to now show off all three.”

Visitors can see the beautiful Atlas moths in the Butterfly Garden, meet the new giant burrowing cockroaches every Wednesday in Field Camp and view the mammoth Hercules beetles in the Success Stories gallery.

Of course, no trip to the Audubon Nature Institute is complete without taking in an IMAX movie at the Entergy IMAX Theatre. The big screen’s ability to transport viewers from the far reaches of space to the bottom of the ocean is an unparalleled educational medium. For downtown moviegoers, that experience will be enhanced beginning in October, when the new Entergy Giant Screen Theater opens. Entergy IMAX® Theatre will close September 8 and will undergo $1.2 million of upgrades.

Renovations include a transition from a 70mm IMAX® projection system, to a digital system and enhanced sound. Cobalt Construction was awarded the bid for the theater renovation and Entertainment Supply & Technologies is the integrator for the new projection system. The giant screen will be replaced and will continue to be one of the largest in the Gulf south.

The theater will still primarily program institutional educational movies such as Hurricane on the Bayou, but will continue to have opportunities to show Hollywood movies as well.

Please visit www.auduboninstitute.org for more information.

Next week, we’ll explore the history of New Orleans by land and sea, as well as the Steamboat Natchez; the last true steamship on the Mississippi River!