San Diego, California, United States of America
Just north of downtown San Diego in Balboa Park is the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, a 100 hundred acre park that is home to more than 4000 animals from 800 species. There are many ways to see the zoo, and the best way to get started is to take the 35 minute guided bus tour. During the tour, a guest can learn about what is offered at the zoo and decide where they want to spend the most time. The zoo grounds are hilly, and while enjoyable to stroll it can be a whole lot of walking if one isn’t sure where they are going or what time it is best to visit certain exhibits.
One of the most educational and unique experiences at the zoo is found by Elephant Odyssey. Of course, there are elephants but there is also a fossil portal that takes a visitor on a journey through the past with “fossils” and bones of many creatures from the Pleistocene era, some descendants of modern day elephants like the mammoth. The bones of other animals that lived in North America during this era that can be viewed are those of giant sloths, ground bears, lions and the great Saber Tooth tigers. Nearby, some of their modern day counterparts, including lions and jaguars, can be viewed in settings that mimic their modern day natural habitats.
There are also seven elephants that call Elephant Odyssey home, and their enclosure has been remodeled and grown to over 2.4 acres. Six Asian elephants, including Ranchipur, a massive bull weighing in at about 12,000 pounds, and one female African elephant named Tempo, enjoy one of the most impressive elephant enclosures ever built. There are several pools to wade in, one of which is 4600 square feet and seven and a half feet deep. There are also “utilitrees”, instead of live trees, that provide a shady resting spot or a great place to put treats for the elephants to find. Real trees would quickly be ripped out and turned into toys by these curious giants.
The African Rocks exhibit is home to many species of wild cats, some highly endangered. The smallest of the cats found in this part of the zoo is the Siberian Lynx. Snow leopards also leap and climb in a nearby enclosure, as well as the Chinese leopard, the jaguar, and the powerful Puma, or mountain lion as it is often called. From the big cats, it’s not a far walk to the Outback, where a guest can visit camels, the largest population of koalas outside of Australia and wallaby’s. As you approach this area, you can follow the smell of eucalyptus to the Koala enclosures, of which there are six in all. Eucalyptus is the primary food in the diet of koalas, and there are 600 species of this plant that they can sample.
In the same enclosures, small Parma wallabies can be seen hopping about, sharing the “ecosystem” just as they would in the wild. Through the Koala education and Conservation Program at the zoo, money is raised to research and preserve the koala’s quickly disappearing natural habitat. The zoo was recently part of a program that collared 30 koalas in St. Bees Island, Australia, in hoped of learning more about them and how to help them.
Another part of the San Diego Zoo not to be missed is the Lost Forest, where a visitor will find a huge diversity of animals, such as the hippopotamus, the Orangutans, and the most intelligent being on earth (next to humans), the Bonobo. At one time Bonobos were thought simply to be a member of the chimpanzee family, but they are actually a separate species. Bonobos are the closest living relative of the great apes to humans. One of the most notable traits of these highly evolved creatures that separates them from chimps, and humans, is that they have never been observed killing one of their own kind. In contrast to other species of ape, they are incredibly peaceful by nature. There is only one place on earth to find Bonobos in the wild and that is in Democratic Republic of Congo. They are the most endangered of all great apes. The same size as chimpanzees, Bonobos walk upright more easily than other species of primates. They also don’t generally begin having babies until the females are about 13 years old, which means increasing population numbers is very slow. The San Diego Zoo was the first ever to feature these disappearing apes and is working hard towards conservation of them in their native range.
The Giant Pandas have been a favorite at the zoo since they first were introduced in 1987. In 1996, San Diego Zoo made a deal with China to house two adults, and two babies and has since welcomed Yun Zi, born in August of 2009, at the zoo. The exhibit housing the pandas is great to visit as there are elevated walking paths to offer more than one view of the bears.
At the Polar Rim is the newly remodeled Polar Bear exhibit, with a pool that features underwater viewing. There is also an exciting “interactive wall” where visitors can watch as the keepers have personal interactions with the great bears. As with all of the animals in danger at the zoo, there are conservation efforts underway to help Polar bears survive in the wild.