San Diego Zoo sign

Laura and Lee's Zoological Venture

March 20, 1998

The San Diego Zoo is arguably one of the best zoos in the world, but even though we're members of the Zoological Society, and it's only about 15 minutes from our house, we rarely manage to get down there. The last time we had visited was about a year and a half ago, and we knew that there were several new exhibits (like Polar Bear Plunge and the Giant Pandas), that had opened since the last time we visited. The zoo opens at 9:00 and we like to get there fairly early because the animals are most active then - we didn't actually arrive until about 10:00, though.

koala bear
Our first stop was a visit to the koala bears - but it really doesn't matter when you visit them, since they never seem to be active - except for actively sleeping, I suppose. :-)

They were doing a lot of work on the outdoor part of the koala bear exhibit so none of them were outside. We wondered if maybe they are turning part of it into an art exhibit, though, because we saw this very interesting Glove Sculpture - note the balance of the gloves and the symbolism of placing them at the end of a pole...the raw emotion of sticking them in a pile of dirt...the artist was truly inspired.

After oohing and ahing over the sculpture :-) we headed down the canyon past all of the goat and sheep things to where they keep many of the small mammals. This critter is a fossa, and we think he looks like a cross between a dog, a cat, and a weasel. The eyes are especially strange looking. We also saw a couple of Taryas (which are members of the weasel family) and a beautiful Caracal. They were all fairly active at this time of day.

panda eating
At the Panda Research Station, we saw the zoo's two Giant Pandas, Shi Shi and Bai Yun. Shi Shi (pictured here) was enjoying the bamboo, but Bai Yun was totally sacked out in the tree - she could teach our cats a thing or two about sleeping. :-)

Shi Shi and Bai Yun are on loan to the Zoo for 12 years, and everyone is hoping that the Zoo will develop a successful breeding program. Not an easy task, when the female is only in heat for about 72 hours once a year.

Giant Eland
We headed up to Hoof and Horn Mesa, since that's where the polar bears were supposed to be - though that seemed a rather strange location to us. Anyway, we saw a very strange, very LARGE hoofed creature standing on his enclosure, and finally saw a sign that told us it was a Mimshi Takin (pronounced Tah-kin), which is found in China. Lee tried to take a photo, but it didn't come out very well, so this photo is actually of a Giant Eland, instead.

The Giant Eland is the largest of the antelopes, and can weigh over 2000 pounds. Antelope things aren't especially interesting to us (though the Takins were new and different), so we made a pretty quick pass through, still searching for the polar bears.

pb1.jpg (9065 bytes)
Then we finally found Polar Bear Plunge, the polar bears' habitat. Three polar bears were frolicking in the water - playing with a ball, breaching out of the water, pushing themselves off of the glass - it was really quite an entertaining show. The habitat is very nice - patterned after the Arctic summer tundra. In addition to a very large pool, the bears also have a waterfall and rocks and logs to play on. We saw 4 polar bears in the enclosure, and they were all very active. They're all pretty young, though - less than 2 years old.

This polar bear was doing his impression of a hippo munching on greenery - we thought it was pretty funny.

sleeping hippos
Next we went over to Hippo Beach. Sleeping underwater is a very strange concept, but the two hippos were doing that - one was actually sleeping on top of the other. They would raise their nostrils above the water every few minutes to breathe.

We were happy to see that the water was very clear - we have been there on other occasions when the pumps aren't working properly, and the visibility is very poor. Since the hippos spend most of the time underwater, it's hard to get a good look at them unless the water is clear.

clouded leopard
From Hippo Beach we went over to Sun Bear Forest, and then headed over to the "Wild Ones" show. That's one of my favorite things to see - we usually see different animals every time, and they showcase the animals' natural behaviors rather than tricks. This time we got to see a 10 month old badger that was raised by a family - the family dog brought him home when he was about two weeks old, and he slept in bed with them, even went to court with the husband who was an attorney! But, as well-socialized as he is, the family realized that those long claws and sharp teeth could cause problems, and that they needed to find a better place for him.

We also saw a river otter, an emu, a red-tailed hawk, and, the best part as far as I was concerned, a clouded leopard. The leopard was just beautiful, though a lot smaller than I expected. He's 13, and a senior citizen these days, so he doesn't have to do too much more than just come out and make an appearance, but in his younger days he used to do 30 foot leaps across stage. Wow.

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After the show we saw a Brazilian Jaguar - who has black fur, but we could still see his spotted pattern.

We visited the meerkats, but they were hiding away, and we only saw three of them.

On the way out we walked past the Spotted Quolls - the "tiger cat" of Australia. We finally got this picture of one - he wouldn't hold still for very long, and the digital camera isn't really that fast. Quolls really aren't related to cats, they are marsupials, but they look more like a cat than any of Australia's other animals.

tasmanian devil
We also got to see a Tasmanian Devil. He wasn't nearly as fierce looking (or as energetic!) as Warner Brothers cartoon version. :-) The zoo had added quite a few more Australian animals since the last time we were there - they have had the koalas and the Goodfellows tree kangaroos for a long time, but this time we also saw the Quolls, the Tasmanian Devil, and some other kangaroos and wallabies.

There was still a lot of things that we didn't see, like Tiger River, Gorilla Tropics, the Children's Zoo, etc., but we had had a nice extended morning. One thing I haven't commented addition to all of the animal species, the zoo is home to thousands of plant species, too, many of them endangered as well.

It's a beautiful place just to walk around, even without seeing the animals. Many plants are in bloom right now, including the azaleas pictured here.

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Text and photographs copyright © 1998, by Laura Gilbreath. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.

Laura Gilbreath,
Last updated 3/30/98