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Great zoos

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden ( www.riverbanks.org), is near downtown Columbia (I-26 West’s Greystone exit) and is stocked with roughly 2,000 animals – mammals, sharks, penguins and more – in 150 acres. Enjoy the zoological diversity: The animals are from all over the world. New to the zoo? A baby babirusa – a Malaysian “deer-pig” that grows amazing tusks – that is quite a talented swimmer. The infant (plus parents Wilma and Bertello) can be found near the African Bird Yard.

A compact layout and flat terrain make Riverbanks an ideal stop for families with kids or seniors. Kid faves: monkeys; huge Siberian tigers and a baboon troupe. The best family memory photo op? It might be feeding giraffes at the Giraffe Overlook. If you hear something odd at Riverbanks, it could be siamangs – members of the gibbon family that sing/bark quiet loudly, and in duet.

Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (to 6 p.m. weekends, March 29-Sept. 29); $11.75; $9.25 for kids.

Admission includes the 70-acre gardens, with seven themed areas. If you go there after visiting the zoo, remember that the Walled Garden holds a Midnight Garden of plants that only bloom at night.

The N.C. Zoological Park ( www.nczoo.org), 75 miles northeast of Charlotte in Asheboro, is billed as the largest walk-through natural-habitat zoo – and home to the largest population of chimps – in the country. Its focus is on North America and Africa. Bison and elk roam an 11-acre prairie; the American area also houses polar bears, gators and everything in between. Of special note is the indoor Sonoran Desert, with animals and plants of the Southwestern deserts.

Impala and other antelope ply the 37-acre African Plains. Nearby: giraffes, elephants, lions, warthogs and more. An aviary holds tropical birds and vegetation (plus poison dart frogs). Kid faves: Seals and otters.

What’s new? Four new female chimps: Gari, 36; daughters Gerre, 13, and Gigi, 1; and granddaughter Genie, also 1. What’s on the way? A baby gorilla: Acacia, 18, is due in early summer. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through October; until 4 p.m. daily November-March. $12; $8 for kids. Combo pass ($16, $12 for kids) required for animatronic dinosaur exhibit and 4-D movie.

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