Dave Lawson’s guide to the zoo.

A long way from the dated perception of concrete enclosures and bars, modern zoos are ecologically minded and environmentally friendly. But they’re also very popular and hence very, very busy.

Any casual visitor to a modern zoo will know that they’re not just a place for entertainment – the modern zoo is a hub for ecology and conservation. AGL supports Melbourne Zoo’s Marine Response Unit – responding to calls for assistance involving seals, turtles, dolphins and other marine wildlife in Victorian waters. Melbourne Zoo was also the world’s first carbon-neutral zoo and AGL are helping them, along with zoos in SA , in their quest by rolling out solar power in the next few years.

But, they’re also busy. There are 200,000 zoo members, and 2.1 million people visited the various Zoos Victoria sites in 2014/15. So it helps to have a guide to help you through the busy times. So we spoke to actor and comedian Dave Lawson, a self-styled zoo connoisseur about how to beat the crowds and the summer heat.

How often do you go to the zoo?

3-4 times a week when my son was a year old, now at least weekly.

Being a member of the zoo, it doesn’t matter if you go for half an hour or an hour, or don’t even see an animal. It’s just a great playground.

What advice do you give? Are there any shortcuts?

There are some shortcuts but I wouldn’t say them out loud to you or anyone else. Then they’re not shortcuts any more and they’ll close off the pass.

Do you see rookie mistakes? Anything first-timers do that could be improved?

Don’t try and see too much. Don’t try to see everything. Pick a few animals you really want to see. Some animals can be pretty dull, so avoid them.

What are your picks?

They’ve got a great playground, they’ve got the carousel running on the weekend, the new frog enclosure. They’ve got the Southern Corroboree Frogs, which my son is a big fan of.

If you’re not trying to see everything in one go, do you have animal combos that you like?

I treat the zoo in quarters to get around the whole thing.

Dave’s Melbourne Zoo Animal Combos

  • Giraffes/Elephants

  • Seals/Meerkats

  • Lions/Seals

Do you have any summer hints?

In summer especially I really like going through the rainforest where you get the tigers, the elephants, you get around to the orang-utans and it’s nice and cool in the jungle. It almost feels like you’re in another country for a bit. I’ve never been to Thailand but I reckon that’s what it’d be like.

Keeper Kids is another secret area that I don’t really want to say too much about because it’s air conditioned and normally quiet. There are no animals in there but it’s an area for kids probably from about two to six I’d say, you can dress up as a vet or a horticulturalist. In summer, it’s air-conditioned and the kids can play there for an hour or so.

Sometimes we just go there to swim in the crocodile pond. It’s not a real crocodile pond, but a fountain in the lion enclosure. Sometimes we just bring our bathers and have a splash in that.

Is that officially sanctioned?

Well, I don’t know. They haven’t put ropes around it and it’s so inviting for a kid to splash in. I haven’t seen anyone else bring the towels down but I just do that because it’s easier for me.

I do like the hands-on aspect of the zoo. Get amongst it.