Written by: Andrea Shockling Monday, February 25th, 2013 .
Have you ever wanted to take a ride on a cuttlefish? Or sit atop a kangaroo chariot? If you’re visiting Washington, D.C., now you can.
It’s not often that we think of a zoo as the place to go for one of the most innovative rides in the world. But the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park is no ordinary merry-go-round. Powered by one hundred and sixty-two solar panels, the carousel generates more than enough energy to operate daily. Excess energy is diverted to the zoo’s own electrical grid, and visitors can access a digital dashboard, also solar powered, to track how much energy the carousel is saving. This is net-zero exhibit design at its best.
The ride was conceived and fabricated by Carousel Works, the largest manufacturer of wooden carousels in the world, especially for the zoo. There are 58 hand-carved animals – many of which, like the cuttlefish, are worlds away from the more typical horses or ponies. “Some of the gorgeous animals reflect the great conservation success stories of our time,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, “while others represent animals we are racing to save.” The golden lion tamarin and black-footed ferret, for example, are two species featured that nearly went extinct, but were brought back in large part by the zoo’s science and research programs.
Other animals, like the beautiful Baltimore oriole, were chosen for their local ties. Additional information about the birds, fish, mammals and their habitats is showcased on the carousel’s columns, directing families to exhibits and habitats to explore further during their visit.
This blend of modern technology and highly skilled craftsmanship is a welcome departure from plastic playground merry-go-rounds, and the exotic animals bring a sense of adventure to the experience. Not brave enough to ride on the yellowjacket? Try the naked mole rat or one of the two adorable pandas, designed in homage to the zoo’s most famous residents.
But our favorite? The cuttlefish, of course. An absurdly fantastical shape, this is one animal we’ve never seen on a carousel anywhere before. Why ride on four legs when you can glide in style on the cephalopod of your choice?
Image source: nationalzoo.si.edu