Day Trip Discoveries: Go around the world at Woodland Park Zoo

A family views the river otters at Woodland Park Zoo. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo)

The Woodland Park Zoo has always provided a wonderful excursion for families — kids and grandkids love seeing and learning about animals from around the world. Now reopened, the zoo provides a safe outdoor experience to enjoy during summer weather.

The biggest news is the zoo’s new Malayan baby tapir, born June 10 to first-time mother Ulan. The baby is currently nicknamed “Seattle watermelon” because she looks like a watermelon on legs with her reddish-brown coat and white and cream-colored spots and stripes. This color pattern camouflages baby tapirs in bamboo or reed jungles.

The baby tapir. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo)

See “Seattle watermelon” before this coloration begins to fade —  by about five months old, she’ll begin to look more like her mom.

Then explore exhibits to see more than 900 animals representing over 250 species—including some of the world’s most critically endangered. The zoo provides a home for 46 endangered and 15 threatened or vulnerable animal species. It participates in 111 Species Survival Plans, overseen by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

The zoo’s 92 acres are divided into bioclimatic zones, featuring different natural habitats. These range from African savannas and Asian tropics to coastal deserts and temperate rain forests. Founded in 1899, the Woodland Park Zoo led the way in creating naturalistic exhibits that influenced zoos worldwide.

Humboldt penguins. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo)

Inside the West Entrance, you’re greeted by the Humboldt Penguin exhibit. Enjoy the frolicking – above and below water – of these penguins from the hot, arid coastal region of Peru. The award-winning exhibit features a rocky coast with huge glass window for up-close, underwater viewing. It is the first sustainable penguin exhibit with geothermal warming/cooling of water and eco-friendly water filtering systems.

Then follow the one-way path to the Tropical Rain Forest, which mimics those in both South America and Africa. Here you may see gorillas, lemurs, colobus monkeys and jaguars. Contrast this with the Temperate Forest zone, featuring red pandas, maned wolves, Asian cranes and Chilean flamingos.

Continue to the award-winning African Savanna exhibit to view lions, giraffes, zebras, gazelles, hippos and ostriches. It replicates the grasslands of East Africa, home to both predators and large herbivores – here safely separated. Walk through the African Village, an accurate reproduction of a modern rural village.

Next visit the Assam Rhino Reserve to meet the greater one-horned rhinoceros, one of the world’s most iconic symbols of illegal wildlife trade. Continue along the Trail of Vines, home to “Seattle watermelon,” siamangs and Sumatran and Bornean orangutans.

The meerkat exhibit. (Photo by Julie Gangler)

Across the main loop path is Banyan Wilds, where Malayan tigers, sloth bears, Asian small-clawed otters and a variety of birds dwell. Don’t miss the nearby Trail of Adaptations to watch the comical antics of meerkats and marvel at the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard. Also here are sloths and Indian flying fox fruit bats.

Continue to the Australasia exhibit that includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the thousands of islands of the South Pacific. Here you’ll see pouched mammals such as wallabies and wallaroos, kookaburras, parrots, emus and South Asian snow leopards.

The Northern Trail mimics Alaska’s tundra and taiga region, featuring brown bears, gray wolves, Roosevelt elk, mountain goats, snowy owls, great gray owls, porcupines and Steller’s sea eagles. the Taiga Viewing Shelter lets you view river otters swimming underwater and bears fishing for trout.

Visiting the zoo now is a bit different, due to the COVID-19 virus. Face coverings are required for entry (ages 5-plus). Paths to the outdoor exhibits are one way. Hand sanitization stations are widely available. Restrooms receive increased cleaning throughout the day.

You can buy food and beverages at grab-n-go and spaced-seating venues. Try the newly-redesigned 1899 Grove (formerly the Rain Forest Food Pavilion), Gather and Graze Café and Wild Cup coffee cart. The ZooStore at the West Entrance is open.

Many indoor areas and high-touch spaces are closed, including Family Farm, Zoomazium, Tropical Rain Forest Dome, Historic Carousel, Willawong Station, Bug World, Molbak’s Butterfly Garden, the marsh, all playgrounds and the mother’s/nursing rooms.

Go online to purchase tickets with a specific entrance time in advance of your visit. Timed-ticket entry controls the number of visitors inside the zoo and helps social distancing. Once inside the zoo, you can enjoy your visit as long as you wish.

Tickets can be booked 30 days in advance. Avoid arriving earlier than five minutes prior to your entry time or wait inside your vehicle if possible. All pay parking lots are open, but entry is only through the West Entrance (off the Otter parking lot).

Admission: adult (13-64) $22.95; child (3-12) $13.95; senior (65+) $20.95; toddler (0-2) free. The zoo is open 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily.

Woodland Park Zoo

5500 Phinney Ave. N.

Seattle, WA 98103

— By Julie Gangler

Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.


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