Seattle, Washington, United States of America
The Woodland Park Zoo was started in 1899 and is a 92 acre facility that sees more than a million visitors each year. Despite it being an older zoo, the park has fewer animals per acre than many more modern zoos, which means that there is more room for each critter and more extensive enclosures as well. There are approximately 1100 animals that call the zoo home from 300 different species and over 7000 trees! This part of Washington is in the temperate climate zone, so trees are an integral part of the local ecology. They also make for a beautiful setting in which to view many amazing animals and spend the day learning about wildlife conservation.
Seattle tends to be a very “green” region of the country, and this zoo is a prime example of that value, being a leader in sustainable practices, which range from local species recovery programs, endangered species breeding programs and even LEED certified buildings on premises. The Zoomazium is a huge indoor play and learning zone for toddlers to eight year olds, and the entire building is LEED certified, meaning every part of it is environmentally friendly, non-toxic, energy efficient and non-polluting. Inside, children can climb, play and learn with hands on activities that relate to the green values and conservation of wildlife and resources.
The Woodland Park Zoo has received more awards for “Best National Exhibit” from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums more times than any other zoo except the Bronx Zoo. Among the exhibits that have received such awards are the Tropical Rainforest exhibit that opened in 1992 and received the award the same year. In this exhibit a visitor will encounter all types of rainforest animals from Africa and South America, including gorillas and lemurs, but perhaps the most unique aspect of the exhibit is an underwater viewing of the jaguars’ swimming pool. The Elephant Forest opened in 1990, and it too won an award for the 1.5 acre enclosure complete with swimming pool for its three female elephants. In the 1970’s, the zoo was the first ever to feature an “immersion” exhibit for the gorillas, the type of exhibit that makes the guest feel as though they are in the environment with the animals.
In 1994, the Northern Trail area of the zoo received an award for its amazing re-creation of trails just like those in Alaska’s Denali Park. The large section of the zoo is home to gray wolves, arctic foxes, grizzlies, and Roosevelt Elk, which are native to Washington. And in 2007, the zoo opened a 17,000 square foot Humboldt penguin exhibit, one of the largest ever built. Humboldt penguins are an endangered species, threatened largely because the guano from which they make their nests is a highly sought after agricultural product and the animals are forced off of their nests for it to be collected. The Woodland Park Zoo is an active participant in the species survival plan for this lovely little flightless bird.
The zoo is highly focused on the preservation and conservation of endangered species, and is involved with no less than 35 breeding programs of endangered animals. A few of those animals on exhibit are the mysterious clouded leopard at the Tropical Asia part of the zoo, the African Wild Dog, the golden lion tamrarin, the komodo dragon, the slothbear and sunbear.
Other exciting things to do at the Woodland Park Zoo include feeding several species of Australian parrots at Willawong Station, where a visitor can also learn how to attract more birds to their own backyard habitat. There are keeper talks and education programs, and one of the best encounters happens daily at the raptor center, where guests learn about all types of birds of prey. During the demonstrations, birds of all sizes and shapes, including hawks, vultures, and owls fly just above guest’s heads and some will show how they can dive at speeds of up to 140 miles per hour!
One last thing not to miss at the zoo is the beautiful hand-carved carousel, built in 1918. The carousel was originally designed for the Cincinnati zoo, and has since made a journey to a few other places before being donated to its Seattle home in 2007.