The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the entire world, and that’s not just due to marketing. The zoo is one of the largest around (over 100 acres) and has more than a few animals that are almost impossible to find in captivity. As if that weren’t enough, they are extremely active in conservation programs that span across the globe, successfully releasing hundreds of endangered animals back into their native environment.
Being a resident of San Diego and an ardent animal lover, I always buy a yearly membership to the zoo, which not only supports their programs, but also allows me to enjoy unlimited visits to the park. While every day at the zoo is great, their recent Play Days festivities made for such an exciting time that I couldn’t help but want to share the images and trivia bits that I learned with all of you readers. So, enjoy!
My first stop was the gorillas, who were scheduled to have a “raisin rain” enrichment activity, meaning the keepers were going to throw down a bunch of their favorite treats while everyone got to watch. The gorillas were all sleeping when I got there, but as time progressed, they anxiously started to look around for the keeper who would be giving them treats.
Fun Fact: The word Gorilla derives from the Greek word Gorillai, meaning “a tribe of hairy women.”
When she came, they were ready. The one on the right was determined to let the keeper know that she was ready for some snacks.
Fun Fact: There are two species of gorillas, Eastern and Western gorillas. The Eastern gorilla is darker in color than the Western and the Mountain gorilla, a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla, is the darkest of all species.
At first, everyone got cabbage except the baby, but don’t worry, he eventually got his share of the snacks.
Fun Fact: A pack of gorillas is known as a troop. Most troops have one adult male, known as a silverback, and a number of females and young adult males. There are a few groups with multiple males though.
Next off, I ran over to the bonobos exhibit, where they were supposed to get popsicles thrown down at them in a similar fashion. Like the gorillas, they started out sleepy, then started getting anxious.
Fun Fact: Because bonobos and chimps are poor swimmers, Scientists believe the bonobos may have evolved from the common chimp when the Congo river formed over 1.5 million years ago and separated the two groups.
When the keeper arrived, they scrambled to get into position for delicious frozen fruits.
Fun Fact: Bonobos live in matriarchal societies where the females use their sexuality to dominate the males.
The mama was the fastest to the bottom and, thus, she got the majority of the bounty…so much she could hardly hold it in both hands.
Fun Fact: Bonobos are the only non-human creature to participate in oral kissing, face-to-face sex and oral sex.
I then made a quick stop to the tiger exhibit where he was getting fed large bunches of meat, but there were so many people there that even with the tiger right in front of the glass, you could still hardly see him.
Fun Fact: The tigers at the San Diego Zoo are part of the Malayan subspecies, which is the smallest subspecies of all tigers.
So instead, I headed over to the hippo enclosure, where I was lucky enough to see the little baby and his mommy right up at the glass. As it turns out, this was really lucky because they were going to have the little scamp sheltered away in the barn that day and let the daddy out to play(they try to keep them separate because male hippos can be aggressive against their babies), but the youngster refused to go into the barn, so the keepers had no choice but to leave him out.
Fun Fact: The word “hippopotamus” comes from the Greek words “hippo” and “potamos,” meaning “river horse.”
Over at the Asian Passage, I got to see this giant river otter doing what they all do best, swimming and playing.
Fun Fact: The giant river otter is the loudest otter species and the longest member of the weasel family.
This lovely lioness was having a nice time sunning herself under the mid-day sun.
Fun Fact: Up until 10,000 years ago, the lion was the most widespread large land mammal other than humans.
But the spectacled bear was probably the highlight of that area, as he was hanging out as close to the front of the enclosure as he could, smiling at everyone that walked by.
Fun Fact: Spectacled bears the only bear species native to South America and managed to survive in the dense tropics due to their amazing tree climbing abilities.
The little baby bear hung out at the front too, but it wasn’t until it started walking away that I noticed the poor thing was going bald on its back end. The fur disease has hit these bears at zoos across the globe, but scientists still don’t know what causes it or how to stop it.
Fun Fact: Spectacled bears are largely docile unless they feel their cubs are in danger. There have been no documented deaths due to attacks by these bears.
My next stop was the Urban Jungle, where visitors are invited to feed biscuits to giraffes. For only $5, you can get three biscuits and all the giraffe slobber you can handle.
Fun Fact: The tallest giraffe ever recorded was a male that stood almost 20 feet high.
If you played tug of war with them for the biscuits, you could even get to scratch their heads. Look at me, I’m petting a giraffe! Sorry, but it was pretty darn exciting.
Fun Fact: Giraffe’s tongues are black to reduce the risk of sunburn, since they use their toungues so frequently to reach the tallest leaves on a tree.
It seems strange to see a dog, a zookeeper and a cheetah all in one cage, but it actually makes a lot of sense. See, the zoo raises certain cheetahs with dogs so they can become animal ambassadors and interact with humans more easily. The animals become very attached to one another and trust each other completely, so when the dog feels comfortable in a new place or around new people, the cheetah feels relaxed as well.
Fun Fact: The cheetah is the only feline that cannot retract its claws. This makes it impossible to cheetahs to climb trees, although they can usually jump on to easily accessible branches.
The koalas enjoyed a nice nap, like always.
Fun Fact: Koalas are one of the only non-primate animals to have fingerprints.
I’ll admit it, this picture of the Eurasian Eagle Owl isn’t the greatest image of the bunch, it is notable in that a second after this picture was taken, I was smacked in the hand by said owl’s wings. Don’t worry though, both he and I came out of the incident unscathed.
Fun Fact: One of the two largest species of owls, the Eurasian eagle owl can hunt foxes, marmots and young deer, although it prefers to stick with small mammals such as rats and voles.
These beautiful macaws flew around the arena four times before calmly perching on this keeper’s arm to be shown off to the audience.
Fun Fact: A macaw’s facial feather pattern is as unique as a fingerprint.
How can you not love a sea lion show? Here’s one of the two stars waving “hi” to the audience.
Fun Fact: The difference between seals and sea lions is their ears. Sea lions have small ear flaps and seals don’t.
Here’s his impression of a shark.
Fun Fact: Most performing “seals” are actually sea lions, as the latter are easier to train.
This adorable chap is a New Guinea singing dog, and boy can he sing! Best of all, he looks like he could fit right in hanging around the house.
Fun Fact: While New Guinea singing dogs are believed to be extinct in the wild since they have not been spotted since the seventies, researchers have found footprints and fecal matter of the dogs since that time and locals often claim to hear the distinctive howls of the animals in the middle of the night.
Here’s the second sea lion star of the day, this one was a much better dancer, doing a delightful ditty to the tune of “Work In the Line.”
Fun Fact: In recent years, the US Navy has trained sea lions to seek out and detain scuba divers that are swimming in restricted waterways.
She looks so noble doesn’t she?
Fun Fact: Male sea lions can weigh as much as four times what a female weighs, meaning they can get up to 850 pounds.
The komodo dragon always looks like he’s posing for pictures when I see him. This visit was no exception.
Fun Fact: Komodo dragons are the largest lizard species alive today and can grow to almost 10 feet long.
I believe this is a radiated tortoise, but I’m not sure. Either way, he was certainly having a nice lunch.
Fun Fact: The oldest reptile ever recorded was a radiated tortoise that lived about 188 years.
This dopey-eyed fellow is a mata mata. They’re a perfect example of something being cute and ugly at the same time.
Fun Fact: While in the water, the mata mata’s shell looks like bark and its head looks like leaves. It hunts by letting fishes swim right up close to it and then sucking in water along with the fish and swallowing the fish whole.
The main reason I came to this part of the park was to feed the Galapagos turtles though. And I certainly wasn’t the only one looking forward to this portion of the afternoon.
Fun Fact: There are ten subspecies of Galapagos tortoise, seven of which survive in the wild. Each population varies in size, shell shape and other features.
So many choices for such a slow eater.
Fun Fact: There were only 3,000 Galapagos tortoises left in the wild in 1970, but thanks to the captive breeding programs of conservation groups like the San Diego Zoo, there are now 19,000 wandering their homelands.
How could you resist feeding this little cutie?
Fun Fact: The Galapagos Islands were actually named for the tortoises. The original name, “Insulae de los Galopegos,” translates into “Island of the Tortoises.”
Here’s another otter enjoying a relaxing day by the pool.
Fun Fact: The word “otter” is derived from the same root word as “water.”
Now this adorable little pangolin is quite special. He’s only on display for a short while every day because he is very nocturnal and the zoo doesn’t have an enclosure that would be suitable for him to be on exhibit yet.
Fun Fact: There are eight species of pangolins, but only this type, the sunda pangolin, is this distinct sandy brown color. The rest are gray or dark brown.
Here is his keeper showing the pangolin’s amazing prehensile tail to the crowd.
Fun Fact: While the word “pangolin” sounds like it is related to a penguin, it actually comes from the Malay word “pengguling,” meaning “something that rolls up.”
Hello there little meerkats. How are you today?
Fun Fact: The meerkat is the only species of mongoose that doesn’t have a bushy tail.
Wallabies show just how relaxing a day at the zoo can be.
Fun Fact: Wallaby is actually a very vague title as it refers to any animal of its type that’s smaller than a kangaroo or a wallaroo and doesn’t have its own specific name.
This is one of my favorite creatures, a wombat. This was a special treat, since he’s almost always asleep.
Fun Fact: Koalas are the animal most closely related to wombats.
The warthog looked so perfect out there you’d almost think he was the animatronic Disney version.
Fun Fact: The warthog’s lower tusks become razor sharp by rubbing against their upper tusks every time they open and close their mouth.
Of course, no trip to the San Diego Zoo is complete without a visit at the panda enclosure. This big guy practically spends his life sprawled out eating bamboo.
Fun Fact: While 99% of a panda’s diet comes from bamboo, they will also eat meats and fruits when the opportunity comes along.
The polar bear was having a wonderful afternoon nap, cuddled up with a straw-covered rock. I have to wonder if he was dreaming about hunting.
Fun Fact: Because humans do not build in the remote arctic lands of the polar bear, they have retained more of their original habitat range than any other carnivore.
Just outside the arctic aviary, the native ducks were having a little cuddle party together.
Fun Fact: Female ducks have corkscrew-shaped vaginas, meaning they cannot be forced to copulate by male ducks.
Fun Fact: Now extinct for over 10,000, ground sloths once ranged all the way across South America up to Alaska.
The jaguar was very awake and happy to strut his stunning fur and lean body. what a show off.
Fun Fact: The only wild population of jaguars in the U.S. lives in a small area southeast of Tuscon, Arizona.
Another one of my favorites, the capybaras, were all sleeping soundly in the shade of a massive palm tree.
Fun Fact: The name “capybara” comes from the word “KapiÃ¿va” in the Guarani language. It means “master of the grasses.”
But the elephants were feeling mighty frisky, playing with their hay barrels and plopping food on top of their heads.
Fun Fact: Elephants have the longest gestation period of any land mammal with pregnancies that last 22 months.
This guy was hamming it up for the cameras and was well-rewarded when a keeper came by and gave him a big bucket of fresh fruit.
Fun Fact: The largest elephant ever recorded was 13 feet tall at the shoulders -a full yard taller than the average male African elephant.
The secretary bird was standing by to look weird and awkward as always.
Fun Fact: Secretary birds hunt on foot and will kill their prey either by chasing it and then striking it with their bills or by stomping on the prey until it is unconscious or stunned enough to swallow.
And the zoo’s roaming peafowl were just wandering the streets…or at least, the females were.
Fun Fact: While both sexes of the birds are commonly called peacocks, the term technically only applies to the males and the females are known as peahens.
The males were trying to do everything they could to get the girl’s attention. And they didn’t succeed once all day.
Fun Fact: While peahens do not have the extensive train of feathers that the males are known for, they can still display their plumage as a warning to their chicks and to ward off potential females competing for the same mate.
But the leopard tortoise, he was able to get some love so at least not everyone struck out.
Fun Fact: Leopard tortoises will only dig to build nests and will often take shelter in abandoned fox, jackal and anteater holes.
Thanks for viewing everyone. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments.