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Spring at the Zoo: Urban Green, ‘Creatures of Habitat,’ and the Return of the Zoo Key!

This weekend turns a new page—and brings back a familiar keepsake—at the Philadelphia Zoo.

A little while back we shared our excitement at the announced return of a childhood treasure—the Zoo Key. This weekend, it arrives to complement a new exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo: “Creatures of Habitat: A Gazillion Piece Animal Adventure.”


This exhibit will bring 12 life-size LEGO vignettes created by artist Sean Kenney all over the zoo from April 6 through September 30. Kids will be able use the Zoo Keys at “storyboxes” located at each sculpture to “unlock” secrets and stories about the animals, including the issues they are facing around the world and the heroes working to save them. Unlike their predecessors, the storyboxes are solar-powered and their audio is in both English and Spanish.



Seven of the 12 habitats also have interactive games hosted by zoo staff. These games–along with the prompts at the storyboxes– encourage visitors to learn about the dangers facing these diverse creatures, and think of ways that we can help protect them. While these are global problems, the zoo included many ways that even a child can help, like taking faster showers and being responsible with trash at the beach.


“Every child – and adult– can relate to the universal desire to protect our planet, this place we all call home.  And there is no better time to bring back the famous Zoo Key, one of the most nostalgic and memorable items for the millions of children and adults that visit the Zoo and build deep connections with wildlife from around the globe,” says Vikram H. Dewan, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Zoo.


The sculptures range from a tiny turtle to a 500-pound polar bear made of 95,000 LEGO bricks! Our personal favorite was Pascal the chameleon (and yes, he gets his name from Tangled). You can get a Zoo Key for $3 at the ZooShop– and if you are a deluxe or contributor member, your first one is free!



Also opening this weekend, a new food marketplace and play area called The Urban Green. “It’s as if a neighborhood park with great food and a cool atmosphere just sprang up in the middle of the Zoo,” says Davis Fierbend, CEO, Groundswell Design Group, who helped design the new attraction. The space will have outdoor seating, a new mural, and a central playspace made from natural materials like giant logs. Urban Green will also have three food trucks that serve fresh sandwiches, salads, and custom fries; plus frequently changing craft beers and wines.




The Urban Green is also home to a new “Vertical Farm.” This unit–not much larger than one of the food trucks– will grow one acre’s worth of food for the zoo’s animals all year round. This new sustainable way of farming reduces water consumption by 70-90 percent, forgoes herbicides and pesticides, and furthers the zoo’s commitment to preserving our natural world.


In addition to these great new features, we learned that the zoo is planning a new ropes course for this May, in place of the ZooBalloon, which is sadly gone for now while it is being repaired. UPDATE: Read all about WildWorks, here!


“Creatures of Habitat” opens April 6 and runs through September 30, and is included with admission to the zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo is located at 3400 W. Girard Avenue in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Admission is $24 for adults, and $19 for children ages 2-11. Kids under 2, and zoo members get in free. And don’t forget: Supporting Members get 15 percent off membership at the Philadelphia Zoo (along with many other discounts around town!), so you can return again and again to see these fun additions to the zoo!


Lead photograph by Kory Aversa. All additional photographs by Laura Swartz.

Contributing Writer