Two warm days in the middle of winter in Omaha? There was no way we were going to waste them. So off we went to the Henry Doorly Zoo, which according to its credits, it is the best zoo in the world. Standing in line with the chill wind buffeting us, we heard the majestic and reverberating roar of a huge cat from somewhere within an enclosure to our left. Could it have been a Bengal Tiger we wondered? We were definitely going to the Big Cat enclosure later. I mean who would have thought to see a zoo in the mid west of all places?
It was in the third area that we chose to visit-- the Desert Dome, we saw the world's largest indoor desert, located under a glazed geodesic dome which is a landmark icon of the zoo and for Omaha. Built at a cost of $31.5 million, the dome has plant and animal life from three deserts: The Namib desert of Africa, the Red Center of Australia and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest of the US.
The awe inspiring dome is 230 feet in diameter spanning over one acre, and is an engineering marvel as there are no supports to it. Standing 13 stories tall, the top of the dome is 137 feet above the columns. Geodesic means is a dome pattern of triangles that actually provide a strong structure. Interestingly, a gutter system, on the outside of the dome, is connected to two, 20,000 gallon underground storage tanks for the collection of rainwater. This rainwater harvested is used for watering the plants inside the dome which is a great sustainable practice.
The replicated Namib Desert of southern Africa boasted of tall date palms and climbing among the pseudo cliffs were rock Hyraxes, klipspringers and the most darling meerkats like out of the movies. We literally ran past the Desert Caves which had 21 reptile species from Africa and Australia, including venomous snakes such as death adders, a cape cobra and the Inland taipan which is the world's second deadliest snake.
The Red Center of Australia is one of the world's most unique isolated deserts and we were lucky to see what it actually looks like here. Here, rock wallabies lived along with tall bottle brush trees and a tiny leaved Eucalyptus tree and some peccaries. A white Kookaburra sat unmoving, its thick beak pointed away from our curious gaze.
The Sonoran Desert, which is found in the southwest United States and northwest Mexico, is the world's second most biologically diverse desert. This area had ocelots watching us as we looked at them, and a bunch of peccaries, who did not care and wallowed in the desert dirt. We walked past bobcats, and then entered the hummingbird canyon where we encountered a waterfall in the parched desert. We particularly loved the Road runner exhibit made famous again by the cartoon character Road Runner and Cayote. Among the flat, prickly pear cactus and the tall endangered Saguaro cactus forest live tame quail, lizards and the occasional rabbit.
For me a rabid Rain Water Harvesting advocate, the thought that this massive structure with its hundreds of desert plants and animals was using rain water to sustain its needs, was indeed heart warming. I did see a lot of snow everywhere when I visited, which obviously also does translate into water and was sure that those tanks were filling rapidly, winter or no winter!
Three cheers for RWH :-)
Marianne de Nazareth