Indianapolis Zoo celebrates warmer weather with xZooberance

There’s a buzz around Indy this month.

People are emerging from their homes after a long winter. Increased vaccination levels have people more hopeful and optimistic than any time before the pandemic started. Thousands of visitors are in town for the NCAA tournament.

But at the Indianapolis Zoo, it’s the coming springtime that has everyone excited.

“With everything that’s been going on with the pandemic, it seems like this has been the longest winter that we’ve probably ever experienced,” said Carla Knapp, spokesperson for the zoo. “People are ready to get out, they’re ready to celebrate spring and be outdoors in warmer weather. They want to be around nature and animals, vibrant colors and music.”

Nature awakens this time of year, and the Indianapolis Zoo has planned xZOOberance, a unique festival to celebrate everything spring. From today to Sunday, and again April 8 to 11, visitors can learn about the importance of bees and other pollinating insects, and play a pollen toss game.

Stretch out with animal-inspired yoga. Live music, dancing and public artwork will turn the zoo’s Bicentennial Pavilion into the center of activity during the festival. A family-friendly Cheer Garden will provide a space for adults to grab a local craft beer while kids enjoy picnic-style snacks.

Live animal encounters, including goats and chickens, will let you experience nature up close. And many of the zoo’s animals, including tigers, sea lions and walruses, will be active and outdoors.

The hope is that the festival can be a way to enjoy the nicer weather, as well as a welcoming for people who have not been back to the zoo since the pandemic started.

“We’re all in such a different place now. We’re feeling so hopeful, so optimistic,” Knapp said. “We’ve been open since mid-June, but I think a lot of people have delayed their visit. But we’re seeing people coming back and feeling comfortable now. To welcome people back with this celebration is so meaningful for us.”

xZOOberance was born in 2019 out of the idea to plan a large-scale event during the period when people are on spring break. For years, March has marked the opening of the zoo’s Butterfly Kaleidoscope, where visitors could wander through an enclosed conservatory to see dozens of different kinds of colorful butterflies.

But with its successful events such as Zoo Boo in the fall and Christmas at the Zoo during the holidays, officials thought that a springtime celebration would be an exciting addition.

“When we did it in 2019, it was very popular. It gave people something to look forward to and come out to for spring break,” Knapp said. “It was something additional to their zoo experience.”

Plans were in place to hosts xZOOberance in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the zoo to close for much of the spring. Still, it was important to try again, Knapp said.

Organizers this year wanted to spotlight the role bees play in the natural world. The pollen toss game will teach how bees and other pollinators help plants thrive and spread. Beekeepers will host chats on the importance of bees on the environment. A display on the tools beekeepers will teach kids and adults about how they handle bees.

The epicenter of activity for xZOOberance will be the zoo’s Bicentennial Pavilion, a partially covered gathering place that opened in 2016. The pavilion will be decorated with oversized pinwheels and brightly colored kites. The zoo will be bringing in animal-shaped topiaries for people to examine, and a living wall of plant life will be set up for people to explore.

On the festival’s main stage, guests can enjoy performances from locally known acts such as Kenyattá Dance Company, Cathy Morris, People, Paint & Percussion and others. The second stage at the nearby Perch will feature interactive performers, drummers, acoustic musicians and more.

“We wanted to offer a variety of things that would appeal to people of all ages, centered around that spring theme: flowers and colors and bees and pollinators and animals,” Knapp said.

The Cheer Garden is a family-friendly riff on the popular outdoor beer gardens that pop up as the weather warms. People can stop in and enjoy treats such as Bavarian pretzels, kettle chips and kid-friendly foods.

Grown-ups can cool down with a wine slushie from presenting sponsor Daniel’s Vineyard. Indy craft distillery Hotel Tango has created specialty cocktails utilizing springtime ingredients such as honey. A selection of craft beers will be available, including Crocodilian, a new American pale ale created for the zoo by Metazoa Brewing.

“They’ll be debuting that at xZOOberance,” Knapp said. “All of those aspects will appeal to adults, and be outdoors to have that relaxing festival vibe to it.”

To go with the various activities and fun of the festival, the zoo has also kicked off its Butterfly Kaleidoscope exhibit at White River Gardens. More than 40 varieties of moths and butterflies flutter inside the tropical surroundings, allowing people to come in close contact to the creatures.

Mild temperatures also encouraged activity among the zoo’s animal population, so visitors can expect to see their favorite critters on the move, Knapp said.

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What: A springtime festival bringing together entertainment, music, unique animal experiences and other activities over the course of three weekends.

Where: Indianapolis Zoo, 1200 W. Washington St.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 25-28, April 1-4 and 8-11.

Cost: Admission to the zoo varies per day, ranging from $13.20 to $18.95 for adults, and $9.95 to $14.45 for children ages 2 to 12. Kids under 2 are free. Members are free. All guests must obtain a timed ticket in advance.