Learning about animals can be super fascinating and educational, especially when sharing the experience with kids. We took a trip to some of the city’s most kid-friendly animal attractions to see many of the hair-raising and awe-inspiring displays SP has to offer. Who knew that planning a fun-filled day with children could be enjoyable for adults?
We are at the mão na cobra – ‘hands on the cobra’ – snake-handling session at the Instituto Butantan. Biologist Natalia Torillo is teaching the kids how to behave with the snakes before the big moment arrives. ‘In nature, an attacker would go straight for the snakes’ head, so don’t touch them there, or they’ll think you’re a predator. Just give them an affectionate stroke, and don’t squeeze them. Combinado? (agreed?).’ The kids are fit to burst with nervous excitement. ‘Everyone comes with a mix of fear and curiosity,’ says Natalia. ‘Some seem confident – until the moment arrives.
‘We use the falso coral (false coral), which is a very calm snake. But you never know with children, and if the snake feels threatened it can release a secretion with a very strong odour. It has happened before. But it’s just a case of washing your hands afterwards,’ she says.
No such dramas happened on this visit. ‘I touched and held them and wasn’t afraid! Their skin is soft,’ says four-year-old Lorena, with a new-found confidence, while her ten-year-old sister Jovana is a little more reserved: ‘I was a little bit scared. When I touched it, it started to stretch out.’ Their mum, Adriana, enthuses about the experience: ‘I think you have to have spaces like this, this kind of contact, so that they don’t just see things in books. This way, they learn more.’
|Fazendinha Estação Natureza
For a bit of a fuzzier animal experience, head to the less exotic, hands-on Fazendinha Estação Natureza, a farmyard near Interlagos that gives children the chance to see goats, pigs, turtles and peacocks, ride ponies – and yes, there are cows and ducks too.
Over in Ipiranga, at the Aquário de São Paulo, schools of children are ogling the fish. The vast aquarium, filled with more than two million litres of water and over 300 species of fish and sealife, takes at least two hours to roam around.
Through dimly lit tunnels, past tanks of colourful fish, we cross a bridge where orange-and-white Koi splash in a mini waterfall. Educational signs, most of which are bilingual, are everywhere – did you know lobsters can carry 100,000 eggs? ‘Meet the biggest predator on the planet,’ says another sign, and you step forward to find yourself looking at your own relfection in a mirror.
Head down into a rusty old submarine set in the Oceanário (ping! ping!), to find graceful rays gliding overhead while seven nursing sharks up ahead are bedding down on the ‘ocean’ floor. Further on, marooned under a pirate ship, Thunder, the sub-Antarctic fur seal, barks up at no one in particular as he sets about cleaning his shiny black skin, no doubt impatient for feeding time.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly Tapajós, a peixe-boi – manatee – orphaned and rescued from the Amazon. Tapajós is a beautiful beast with the size and face of a bull. It soon becomes apparent that he’s in need of a mate, to the amusement of the teachers and bemusement of the children.
|Zoológico de São Paulo
Down in the South East of the city, the Zoológico de São Paulo is the best known of São Paulo’s animal attractions.The zoo, open for over 60 years, boasts of more than 3,000 animals, from golden lion tamarins to the biggest mammal in the Americas: the bizarre trunk-nosed anta, or tapir, which can reach 2.5 metres in length and over a metre in height.
And while there’s nothing quite like heading out into the wild to see Brazil’s phenomenal biodiversity first-hand, you don’t have to be under 12 to enjoy these small slices of animal life in the heart of the urban jungle.
Aquário de São Paulo is at Rua Huet Bacelar 407 (2273 5500/ aquariodesaopaulo.com.br).
Fazendinha Estação Natureza is at Avenida Washington Luís 4221 (5034 2728/ estacaonatureza.com.br).
Instituto Butantan Avenida is at Vital Brasil 1500 (3726 7222/ butantan.gov.br). Read more on Instituto Butantan
Zoológico de São Paulo is at Avenida Miguel Stéfano 4241 (5073 0811/ zoologico.sp.gov.br).