This is the first part of what will be a multi-part, comprehensive guide to the Ione and Paul Harter’s Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo. Many of you may be wondering why the Children’s Zoo needs a comprehensive guide. One reason is that it’s a pretty big area that has many diverse attractions. The more important reason is that adults with no children routinely skip the Children’s Zoo because they assume there is nothing for them there. Read on to find out what you may have been missing.
The Children’s Zoo is located in the Discovery Outpost area in the southern most area of the zoo. To get there, walk south past the Skyfari East station and look for the sign on the left side. You will also see a short arched bridge over a pond with the “Boy And Gull” bronze statue and streams of water shooting overhead. The area isn’t specifically labeled on the zoo map, so you’ll need to look for the red Clark Theater banner in the lower left corner of your map.
Pro Tip: The Children’s Zoo opens 30 minutes after the grounds open and closes 30 minutes before grounds close. Plan accordingly.
The Children’s Zoo could reasonably be split into three parts: animals, children’s activities and Spineless Marvels, the bug house.
This post will focus on the animals of the CZ, some of which can be found elsewhere on the grounds, but many of which are exclusive to this area. My sense is that the prevailing perception of the CZ is that the area is only filled with barnyard animals fit for a petting zoo. While there is a petting zoo with barnyard animals (something I will cover in the children’s activities portion), there are many other animals interesting enough to warrant a visit.
Primates are the first animals you encounter after passing over the arched bridge. It will take sharp eyes to pick out the Pygmy marmoset (Celuella pygmaea) and Goeldi’s marmoset (Callimico goeldi) in their glass encased home. These rainforest primates live in different regions of Central and South America, but both inhabit similar environs and forage for insects, fruit and tree resin. The goldish-brown Pygmy is around 6 inches long in captivity when fully grown, and weighs less than 5 ounces, earning them the title for the world’s smallest true monkey. The brown/black Goeldi’s is nearly twice the size–though still small–measuring between 8-12 inches long and weighing around 12 ounces.
Fun Fact: The Pygmy and Goeldi’s Marmosets can both live up to 20 years in captivity, nearly twice as long as their wild counterparts.
Other primates living in the CZ include the Columbian brown spider monkey (Ateles beizebuth hybridus), Geoffroy’s marmoset (Callithrix geoffroyi) and, at the time publication a female baby silvered leaf monkey, or silvery lutung (Trachypithecus cristatus). Born in early July and named Thai, zookeepers where forced to intervene when her first-time mother had trouble breast feeding her. You can visit Thai in the nursery located in the heart of the CZ.
One of the area’s newest additions is the fennec fox (Vulpes zerda), the world’s smallest natural member of the canidae family, which includes wolves, foxes, coyotes and domestic dogs. (Are we starting to sense a theme in the Children’s Zoo?) His huge ears are instantly noticeable, and are made to seem even larger by his tiny stature. These ears enable him to hear prey from great distances, including underground. Although the fennec fox is a nocturnal species, this little guy has a tendency to play during the day, dashing around his enclosure chasing bugs and leaping from rock to rock. He also has a killer hideout accessed by squeezing between the rocks of his den’s roof, leaving many zoo visitors to stare at a seemingly empty exhibit while he sleeps comfortably hidden.
One of the most popular zoo animals is undoubtedly the meerkat, and the CZ has a colony of Southwest African meerkats (Suricata suricatta hahni) near the Children’s Zoo exit. Made popular by the character Timon in The Lion King and Animal Planet’s “Meerkat Manor,” these small members of the mongoose family are endearing enough to have three separate colonies at the zoo and a fourth at the Safari Park. Their constant activity in clear view, along with the propensity to sit upright make them a great photo opportunity.
The CZ is also host to many bird species from around the world. These include several species of macaws, parrots, tanagers, cardinals, ducks and the striking orange Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. There is also the White Racing Pigeon Loft made to look like a quaint, wee little cottage. Inside, beautiful white pigeons nest in cubbies, shuffle about in window cills or lay in the sun in a screened veranda.
The list of species goes on and on. The size of the Indian crested porcupine will surprise many. The short-nosed echidna from Southern Australia is a funny little creature with quills and a nose longer than its name suggests. The pair of freshwater otters, one from Africa and one from North America, love to show off for guests by propelling themselves against the glass in the underwater viewing area. There are two mid-sized members of the cat family, an ocelot from Central and South America and a serval from the river plains of Africa. Two-toed tree sloths have taken the place of the recently relocated red pandas.
I hope I have convinced you to visit the area if you haven’t done so already. Stay tuned for my next entry in the Children’s Zoo series, about the many family friendly attractions.