The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

May 26, 2013

Zoo Tales: Dinosaurs Roar Back to Life at NC Zoo


CNHI

Sunday, May 26, 2013 —

The most successful temporary exhibit ever at the North Carolina Zoo roars back bigger and better for an encore presentation when "Dinosaurs" returns to the park through Oct. 31.

Through the magic of futuristic technology, these mammoth, life-like animatronic creatures will offer a full-blown dino-reality experience to zoo visitors as they travel back in time along a lush, winding pathway with ancient plants, where a new experience lurks at every turn.

As part of this limited-engagement, outdoor exhibit, visitors will encounter dinosaurs representing species that once roamed North America throughout the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods--from gargantuan herbivores, to savage predators.

Real dinosaurs, of course, became extinct ages ago, but each of the 15 life-like (and most are life-sized) dinosaurs offer best-guess snapshots of those prehistoric animals based on the most up-to-date research. State-of-the-art electronics power each dinosaur to control the movements and sounds. The realistic movements are produced by a pneumatic-piston system that enables the dinosaurs to move smoothly and precisely.

Each dinosaur is built on a steel frame and meticulously equipped with textured, intricately painted rubber skin, bold colors and theatrical touches that make it seem real. Realistic movements include grasping hands, menacing claws and gnashing teeth.

A whole new cast of creatures has been chosen for this year's experience and promises to be bigger, bolder and better. Among the featured species will be Giganotosaurus--all 43 feet of it--which will take the place of last year's Tyrannosaurus Rex. “Giga” is actually believed to have been larger than the T-Rex, with a massive skull more than six feet long.

Other new species for 2013 will include Acrocanthosaurus, a large  carnivorous dinosaur whose name means "high spined lizard;" Amargasaurus, featuring elongated pairs of spines running from the base of the head down to the base of the neck; Citipati, an emu-sized creature with a distinct toothless head crest and proto-feathers. 

Others include Edmontonia, one of the last known living dinosaurs; Parasaurolophus, a massive duck-billed dinosaur with a distinct elongated crest that has been shown to function as a resonating chamber, possibly for sending low, deep, sub-sonic sounds to herd members miles away.

And returning is the always-popular Triceratops, easily one of the most well known and recognizable dinosaurs with its three distinct horns on its face. Others include Coelophysis, Deltadromeus, Parasaurolophus, Styracosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus (the most requested when asked of Zoo visitors what new dinosaur they most wanted to see this year).

During their trek back in time, visitors will additionally be able to explore a paleontologist's tent and get the latest scoop on fossil sites in North Carolina. At the end of the excursion, they can dig around in fossil pits for an ancient relic to take home or climb aboard a yellow jeep for a family photo.

These giant mechanical dinosaurs were designed and built to scale by Texas-based Billings Productions, North America’s largest maker of life-size animatronic dinosaurs for zoos, museums and theme parks. Their creations include 50 different species--from Allosaurus to Tyrannosaurus rex. Their clients have included zoos in Houston, Cincinnati and Detroit as well as Dinovotion in France and Misaki Park in Japan.

The company, founded in 2003, is one of only a few enterprises in the world that produce large, life-size animatronic dinosaurs for traveling and permanent exhibits and is the only American company that specializes in creating animatronic creatures that can withstand the outdoor elements.

"Kids really connect with the dinosaurs," said Tom O'Konowitz, marketing assistant at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where the exhibit had a record-breaking run.

"They tend to already know a lot about the different species when they get to the zoo. You can see how excited they get when they're up close with these huge creatures right in front of them."