If you are anywhere close to the San Diego Zoo, take a day and visit this animal sanctuary. Ed and I enjoyed our day watching the animals engage in their favorite activities – eating, playing, sleeping, and grooming.
Years ago someone asked me, "What would be your wildest dream?" I answered, "To lasso a giraffe while on an African safari." Now, I will admit that my dreams have changed from that flippant comment made ages ago. Can anyone, even the best rodeo team lasso, a giraffe? Doubtful. Will my RV roll through Africa on safari? Doubtful. So admittedly, the closest I will get to any giraffe for now is in the zoo.
During my visit to the San Diego Zoo, I came around to my favorite animal the giraffes several times. Each time they were eating. Their long necks stretched to reach the high basket of food at what would be tree level in their natural environment. Later, they bent their longs necks to a trough of food raised thigh level from the ground. They seemed content to constantly graze. Occasionally, they stopped eating to walk about. You would think their lanky build would make them awkward, but they move about gracefully and slowly on their elegant long legs. They hold their head high with an attitude of confidence and wellbeing. They looked gentle and peaceful.
By contrast, the grizzly bears looked gentle and peaceful at first glance, but that would change. When we first approached their zoo home, one grizzly lay resting on the ground and the other lounged in a pool of refreshing water. "Ah, how nice," I whispered to Ed. As we stood watching, I remembered seeing two grizzly bears in a distant field last summer along the Icefields Parkway. Back then, I wished to get a close up view but knew better than to approach them in the wild. Now, here safely, I could watch these magnificent, powerful bears.
Eventually, the swimmer emerged from the water and gave a predicted shake sending water flying off his brown coat. Then, he pranced a bit as if debating what he should do next for some fun. He approached the other bear and gave him a startling swat. He began to torment his resting companion with more swats until his agitating behavior pushed the other one to rear up in retaliation. Their play began. The grizzlies stood on hind legs and began to wrestle, claw, and growl. The crowd grew and the match continued until the instigator had enough and plunged back into the pool of water. There was no chase. The grizzlies resumed their places - one resting on the rocks and the other swimming as if they had been ignoring each other all along.
The gorillas put on a show too. The center of their activity was a baby gorilla. One moment the baby would be cradled on the lap of an adult who was grooming it with gentle strokes. And then, another adult would quickly pass by, fling the baby on its back with a one arm motion, and take off at a fast run. The baby did not seem to mind this repetitious game of steal the baby as it held on tight for the piggyback type rides from gorilla to gorilla.
The least active animal was the koala. A guide told us koalas sleep sometimes as much as 22 hours a day waking only to eat. They nestle between the tree trunk and branches curled in tight sleepy balls. They never moved when we made our first walk through their habitat. Before leaving the Zoo, I revisited the koalas. All but one was still asleep! I watched the awake one nibble on eucalyptus leaves; and when the koala finished his meal, he curled up and went to sleep.
The San Diego Zoo is famous for the rare species of giant pandas and the Panda Research Station. The Zoo is one of four in the U.S. who have giant pandas on display. It is the most successful zoo for panda reproduction. Since 1999, four panda clubs have been born to the resident giant pandas Bai Yun and Gao Gao. We got a short glimpse of the pandas from a two tier walkway through the exhibit. The crowd was asked to be quiet so as not to disturb these precious animals and everyone respectfully obliged. What a marvelous animal, what a marvelous opportunity to see these pandas.
When we left the San Diego Zoo, I felt a great sense of appreciation and cultural indebtedness to the non-profit Zoological Society of San Diego. As operators of the Zoo, the Zoological Society deserved commendation for it dedication to the conservation of hundreds of species and for the provision of the specialized animal habitats so people like Ed and me can watch the animal eat, play, sleep and groom.
The San Diego Zoo offers 35-minute guided tours on double-decker buses. If you have never been to this Zoo, the tour gives you an overview of the Zoo animals and property. The tour proves to be a helpful orientation. I recommend hopping on the tour bus as soon as you enter the gate. Sit on the upper deck for the best view and try to grab the back seats. From there you can sometimes stand up or move left or right to get a better view of the animals. Otherwise, sit on the left side of the upper deck – the traditional driver’s side of a vehicle. Most of the animals were best viewed from this position. The tour is included in the Best Value Admission price.
Wear comfortable walking shoes. There are pathways through 100 acres to meander as you explore the elaborate animal habitats. Use the Express Buses to shuttle you through the Zoo.
The Skyfari Aerial Tram gives visitors a gondola ride over the treetops from the Zoo’s main entrance (east terminal). This is a quick and scenic way to reach the summit instead of walking uphill. The ride takes you to the Polar Bear Plunge (west terminal). Access to the Tram is included in the Best Value Admission price.
The line to view the Panda bears can be long so plan to visit this exhibit before visitation peaks in the later part of the day. Also, be aware that the viewing area closes from time to time for keepers to tend to the pandas.
I really cannot compare the world famous San Diego Zoo to any other zoo because the only other zoo I ever visited is the Pittsburgh Zoo. Back in 1978, I lived in Highland Park. It was a Pittsburgh neighborhood so close to the Zoo that from the tiny porch balcony of my North St. Clair Street apartment I could hear the lions roar and elephants trumpet throughout every day. I visited this Zoo often simply because of the close and inexpensive entertainment.*
Now, the San Diego Zoo happened to be close because our RV was parked in Sweetwater Summit Regional County Park, less than a 30-minute drive away. But the Zoo was anything but cheap entertainment: $35 for adult admissions, $26 for children (online prices 3/09). Nevertheless, I recommend you budget for the experience. There’s wildlife from regions around the world – more than 4,000 animals representing 800 species. Save up and go!
*Pittsburgh Zoo admissions still are affordable - $9 for adults and $8 for children (online prices 3/09).
March 11, 2009
San Diego Zoo
2920 Zoo Drive in Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92112