Oglebay Good Zoo takes guests up close

WHEELING — Imagine running your fingers through the plush fur of an endangered red panda, cradling a two-toed sloth in your arms, or looking a snow leopard square in the eye. If you think these experiences are reserved for big time TV personalities or famous zoologists, think again.

Just ask Emmeline Kowalick or Gail Porter.

They’ll point you to the Oglebay Good Zoo — where memorable encounters with the animals await.

Good Zoo director Dr. Joe Greathouse and his staff make dreams reality with animal encounters for adults and children.

“The interaction with the animals is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Kowalick, who traveled from Pottsville, Pa., to take her 12-year-old son, Will, to the Good Zoo.

“Our first encounter was with the red pandas, otters and sloth in March 2018 — and it was amazing. We learned so much about each animal. Being in the same space and having contact was incredible. We were so impressed with how knowledgeable, kind, and caring the staff was.”

It’s a hallmark of the Good Zoo staff.

“I’ve experienced two animal encounters,” said Porter, who traveled an hour from Cameron. “The first with the sloth, and the second with the red pandas. Also, my husband and I gifted animal encounters as Christmas presents to our grandchildren. It’s not the usual toys or clothes — and we got to share the experience with them. It was an added bonus!”

It’s an experience that’s being unwrapped for all in the region.

“Each animal was so well taken care of,” said Kowalick. “They were not only beautiful, but content. We had at least 30 minutes with each animal, and probably more with the red pandas and sloth. We still haven’t stopped talking about it.”

She also gifted the experience after her first visit.

“It was my son’s Christmas present, and he was so excited when he found out that he was speechless,” Kowalick said. “He loves Oglebay Park, especially the Good Zoo. Our second encounter lasted close to four hours and was outstanding. We prepped meals, learning so much about the animals’ diets.”

Greathouse hopes that the unique experience to look animals directly in the eye will move guests to care more deeply about protecting them and conserving their habitats.

“Animal encounters are unique learning experiences where the keepers and animals inspire our guests to take conservation action through unique, family-friendly interactions,” he said.

Inevitably, all visitors find their favorites.

“We took our three granddaughters, ages 12, 11 and 10,” said Porter. “We met Sweet Pea the two-toed sloth. Kambria, our 11-year-old, has been crazy about sloths so she was very excited. Susan, Sweet Pea’s handler, was so informative and the affection shown was wonderful to see. The look on the girls’ faces as they fed and held the sloth was priceless. I even got to hold her, too!”

It’s certainly worth the trip whatever your age.

“I never imagined being able to enter a red panda’s habitat or let a lemur grab a snack out of my hand,” said Kowalick. “Both experiences were something neither I nor my son will ever forget.”

“My heart melted,” said Porter. “It was therapeutic for me. A once-in-a-lifetime memory for all of us.”

To schedule an animal encounter or plan a visit to the Oglebay Good Zoo, call (304) 243-4030, or visit www.oglebay.com/good-zoo.

Guests booking two Good Zoo animal encounters on the same day will receive a $25 Oglebay gift card, while guests booking three or more encounters on the same day will receive a $50 gift card. Oglebay gift cards are redeemable for overnight lodging, Good Zoo activities, spa treatments, dining, golf, retail purchases and a variety of park activities.