A year ago, Gus the gorilla was only a few months old and barely had a name, spending most of his time close to his mother, Gracie, at the Fort Worth Zoo.
By Wednesday — one of the busiest days at the zoo, with half-price admissions and many children on spring break — Gus, now about 15 months old, was a main attraction.
The young western lowland gorilla flounced across the World of Primates outdoor exhibit, standing to beat his chest and rolling across the grass. He played with a blanket and occasionally hopped on his mother’s back for a ride.
“He’s adorable,” said Carolyn Wilson of Grand Prairie, who was visiting with her family, including her daughter and grandson. “He just makes you want to go in there and pick him up and swing him around.”
Wilson’s daughter Ashley Jordan pointed out how Gracie seemed to motion for Gus to come take a nap.
“To see that, it’s like, ‘Oh, they’re just like us,’ ” Jordan laughed.
Jordan’s son Mason Ware, 6, was impressed, too, but he especially liked the lions and tigers.
The family planned to spend the day at the park — by 1 p.m., three hours in, they were only halfway through — and they were being meticulous about it.
“No cheating,” Wilson said. “Every single exhibit.”
They were joined by plenty of other families.
By noon, the zoo was packed with thousands of guests, which is common on Wednesdays in mid-March, when most kids are on spring break.
In recent years, guest numbers on this particular half-price day have ranged from about 14,000 to more than 25,000, said zoo spokeswoman Alexis Wilson.
Wednesday wasn’t likely to be a record-breaker. But the parking lots didn’t show it. By early afternoon, the lots east of University Drive, near the zoo entrance, were full. Cars were being directed to a grassy area across the road.
Travis Heryla and his family, including his young son Demetri, made sure to get a spot early, driving down from Oklahoma on Wednesday morning and arriving 30 minutes before the zoo opened at 10 a.m.
Three hours later, they were still going strong. Demetri’s favorite animal was a baby shark, and he gave a thumbs-up to Gus. He also enjoyed seeing the rhinoceros and the elephants and flamingos
“A couple of the other zoos we’ve been to were kind of cheap-looking,” Travis Heryla said. “But Fort Worth has really put the money into it.”
For Wilson, the grandmother from Grand Prairie, seeing the silverback gorillas was a highlight. The large primates are featured on a show she watches on the Discovery Channel. As a city dweller, Wilson also enjoyed getting a glimpse at wildlife more native to Texas, like vultures.
“We only see them on road trips,” she said, “and I’ve never seen one up close in person. It’s pretty awesome — and intimidating.”