How many mornings did you look at the window at work and wish you were at the San Diego Zoo? (Between the reliable sunshine and the zoo seeming to keep every animal on earth, how many days didn’t you wish you were at the zoo?) There’s never been a better time to make up for those missed mornings with a leisurely stroll past your new best friends.
Before you even enter the zoo, note the house-sized lion statue standing outside the entrance, balanced on one paw amid a cyclone of etchings on the sidewalk. This statue is only a year old, so even if you arrive as the zoo opens in the morning, you might have to joust for a photo with everyone else discovering this new artifact.
After you enter the zoo, don’t forget to stop by Jungle Java for your morning coffee, but do keep your coffee for yourself. Many animals at the zoo receive their first meal right around 9:00 AM when the zoo opens; regardless of where your first stop is, the animals are not patient when they’re hungry and they can be very convincing. The male koala closest to Sydney’s Grill will even climb out of his tree and search for his keeper!
Another recent update has made the zoo much easier to navigate; a bridge across Panda Canyon was completed in summer 2017, enabling visitors to walk a short distance directly from the gorilla habitat to the lions and elephants. The bridge also includes an elevator tower just past the gorillas to help guests easily descend to Panda Canyon if they’d rather avoid steep hills (whether you’re trying to conserve energy while flying solo or pushing a stroller while entertaining family).
Regardless of which direction you go, you’re bound to spot one of the zoo’s very newest additions; no matter how recently you’ve visited, chances are a baby has been born in your favorite exhibit. Pass through Africa Rocks and see the tiny baby klipspringer born in March. Wander the Tiger Trail and see the okapi calf born in January and the hippo calf born in September 2017. (Tony the hippo is tough to call a baby now that he weighs over 800 pounds, but dapper enough that we can give it to him.) Stop by the Asian Passage and see the Amur leopard cubs born in April 2018 – Amur leopards are so rare that there may well be more in zoos than in the wild, but they prove that cats this small are all kittens.
With or without babies, each habitat offers delightful surprises. Watch the keeper spend more time separating penguins than distributing food as the jostling black birds mimic a very small Metallica concert. Keep your camera handy in the aviary as the toucan flies just past you and poses for a photo. Try to figure out whether the grizzly bear in the pool is Scout or Montana if you can stop simply smiling at the sight of a bear in the pool for that long. The animals are not kept in these enclosures to perform for you, but most of them still can’t help it.
Some animals that are not on regular exhibit are encouraged to perform during regularly-scheduled keeper talks. Keepers provide 10-15 minute lectures, including interesting facts about the animals as well as some animated input from the animals themselves (as when Jamari the tamandua is offered a snack and refuses to relinquish the vial even when he finishes the food, or when Consuela the sloth casts her grapes scornfully to the earth until the keeper gives up and leaves her alone). Whether you stumble happily onto a keeper talk or check the website before your visit to ensure you see your favorite one, with their knowledge and passion, each keeper will make your day during their talk.
With 99 acres of wildlife, you could visit the San Diego Zoo every day and never see everything there is to see, but that’s a great reason to go – there are ever more animals ready to surprise you, and the zoo is unparalleled at leading you to them. What are you waiting for? Get out there and explore the wild side of retirement at the zoo!