Fresno Chaffee Zoo gives visitors an up close experience with animals

FRESNO, Calif.

The zoo is opening the back doors to some of its more popular exhibits, giving visitors a unique zoo experience. At the new Sea Lion Cove exhibit, those willing to pay an extra fee can get up close to the sea creatures and toss them some food.

The exclusive access to the animal areas is designed to be an interactive learning experience. "When you can get one on one with an animal and get close and ask questions and actually be in their environment, I think it brings a whole new idea to learning," said Lyn Myers, assistant curator at the zoo.

Zoo keepers say the learning possibilities are endless. Besides sea lions, there's also an interactive reptile exhibit with a 50 and 90-year-old Galapagos Tortoises, each weighing several hundred pounds. "I think this program is really geared towards our guests that share a passion for conservation like we do here at the zoo and they really want to learn more about the animals," said Lea Carsrud with the "Behind the Scenes" experiences.

The animals that are part of the program have been selected by the handlers. "We've been training for so long. We've handpicked the animals that we think are good and I think we'll be able to add to that as the years come and we get new experiences," said Myers.

All these specialized experiences come at an additional cost. Still some parents say they'd be willing to spend the extra cash for priceless memories.

The price for the "Behind the Scene" encounters vary. Feeding the sea lions is the most inexpensive at $35 per person. The most expensive is an all-day "Trainer for a day" experience costing $275. Zoo officials say all the money goes to their educational programs and the encounters are safe.

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