Lego Animals at the Bronx Zoo!

Lego Tiger

Leave it to the Lego folks to make going to the zoo even more fun. If you happen to be in the New York City area in the next two months, consider taking a trip up to the Bronx Zoo to check out an exhibit called The Great Summer Zoofari: A Lego Wildlife Expedition.

I knew my ten year old would go with me to check it out, but what I didn’t expect was to also be joined by my two oldest children, who are 18 and 19. Summer boredom can lead you to do pretty crazy things. Working around the weather forecast, we happened to go on a Wednesday, which is the craziest day to go. It’s ‘suggested donation’ day. Basically the zoo is free on Wednesdays, and you pay what you think is fair. It’s a great idea, to get some families in the gate, who might not be able to afford the pricey tickets on any other day. But it also means the crowds swell on Wednesdays.

Even with the large crowds we seldom felt crowded. The Bronx Zoo is a large one (265 acres) and there was plenty of room for everyone. Once we got through the long lines to enter, we realized that the Lego exhibit wasn’t just a bunch of animals built out of Legos.

Sam stamps his zoofari passport

At the front gate you can pick up a zoofari passport. Inside is a map showing where you can find the main Lego animals. At six of the structures, there’s a punch station. It’s easy enough for the kids to do themselves, by sliding their passport under the stamp and pulling down on the handle. Even my ten year old got a kick out of collecting his stamps.

It would be a disservice to trivialize the art of the Lego animals themselves. As usual, the Master Builders built these creatures, most of them life size, to look very authentic. When you stop to examine them for a few minutes, you see the clever use of different colored bricks, that give the animals depth and realism. It’s hard for me to comprehend just how much time and talent it took to get those animals ready for their big day.

Because it’s a sponsored by Lego, the exhibit is also interactive (those Lego people like to get kids building!). There are special building days where kids can join in on making Lego murals and build their own creations with the zillions of Legos provided. Each Thursday through Sunday the activity stations are set up in different plaza areas.

Then, the most fun of all, on three different occasions, Lego Master Builders visit the zoo and help kids work together to make a large structure. One date has already passed but there are two left. August 20-21 and September 24-25 are your next chance to meet and work with a Lego Master Builder. The whole Lego Zoofari exhibit ends on September 30.

A baby Lego giraffe in front of the real ones.

As we stopped to admire an aquarium, full of Lego fish, I recognized one of the creations. A few months ago I had the honor of interviewing one of the Lego Master Builders, Steve Gerling.  At the time, he told me one of his favorite personal creations was an octopus. It was tricky to take square bricks and make an animal with curvy legs.  A replica of his octopus was in the aquarium. Once I got home I just had to email Steve and ask him what part he’d played in the animals we’d seen at the zoo. I wasn’t too surprised to find out he was very involved in this specific exhibit. Here is part of his reply:

“Actually the zoo project was a bit of a plum for me; I designed all the critters except for the penguins and some of the aquarium animals. The most fun was wading around in the flamingo pool in a pair of fishing waders installing the LEGO flamingos. It was during open hours so there was quite a crowd watching. That was a ball.”

It’s just like fun-loving Steve to take great pride in making his creations, but also great joy in entertaining the crowd while he installed them.

Beautiful shading detail using different colored bricks.

Summer isn’t over quite yet. There’s still time to take in an afternoon at the zoo. And if you live anywhere near the Bronx, it would be worth your while to check out this amazing exhibit.

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