When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was ride the elephants at the Philadelphia Zoo. They no longer allow elephant rides, but zoos across the country are trying to incorporate more interactive educational and behind the scenes experiences into the typical day at the zoo. At Sea World in Florida I was able to feed a dolphin, and at Ontario's Marine World I pet a beluga whale (their heads feel like hard boiled eggs!). Kit got her first taste of an up close animal interaction last year when she was able to feed the giraffes at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. She was looking forward to doing it again today when we visited, but we missed feeding time. Fortunately on the way out they opened up their relatively new Humboldt Penguin exhibit to allow visitors to feed the cute little birds some fish.
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You can learn more about these desert penguins here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humboldt_Penguin