Zoo Tales: Dinosaurs Roar Back to Life at N.C. Zoo
BY TOM GILLESPIE
Special to The Pilot
A roaring tyrannosaurus rex guards her nest. A brachiosaurus slowly lifts its head to peer through the tree tops. A baby triceratops cries.
Don't tell the folks at the North Carolina Zoo that dinosaurs are extinct. They'll have a park full of them starting March 31.
But these aren't ghosts from the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. 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 adventure lurks at every turn.
The exhibit, "Dinosaurs," will run through Oct. 31. As part of this limited engagement, outdoor exhibit, visitors will encounter dinosaurs representing seven species that once roamed North America throughout the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods - from triceratops, the three-horned favorite of dinosaur lovers, to the savage dimetrodon, one of the fiercest predators of its time.
During their trek back in time, visitors will encounter 16 dinosaurs and make some incredible discoveries of their own. They'll 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. But a warning: Be careful of that t-rex!
Real dinosaurs, of course, became extinct ages ago, but these life-sized "built" dinosaurs offer best-guess snapshots of those prehistoric animals based on the most up-to-date research.
Each is fitted with its own electronic brain to control the movements and to produce sounds. The realistic movements are powered by a pneumatic-piston system that enables the dinosaurs to move smoothly and precisely.
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 include zoos in Fort Worth, 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 U.S. company that specializes in creating animatronic creatures that can withstand the outdoor elements.
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.
State-of-the-art electronics power each dinosaur. Realistic movements include grasping hands, menacing claws and gnashing teeth. One of the animatronic creatures can even be operated by visitors using a remote control box.
"Kids really connect with the dinosaurs," says 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."
Tom Gillespie works for the public affairs office of the N.C. Zoo.
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