Born to be wild


ONE OF THE WORLD’S 10 largest zoos, San Diego Zoo earns its world­wide fame on many fronts. It pi­o­neered the con­cept of zoos with­out cages. It houses 3,500 an­i­mals rep­re­sent­ing 650 species and sub­species on 100 acres of Bal­boa Park, form­ing a lush, 700,000-plant ar­bore­tum in the process of re-cre­at­ing the an­i­mals’ nat­u­ral habi­tats. Many of its denizens are in­creas­ingly scarce in the wild. Per­haps most im­por­tant, the zoo’s In­sti­tute for Con­ser­va­tion Re­search lends its ex­per­tise to 140 con­ser­va­tion and species-preser­va­tion projects in 80 coun­tries and has been in­stru­men­tal in re­plen­ish­ing pop­u­la­tions of the gi­ant condor, gi­ant panda and Tas­ma­nian devil, among many other species.

The Panda Trek, Asian leop­ard habi­tat and the Aus­tralian Out­back, home to koalas min­gling with other mar­su­pi­als and birds, are among the most pop­u­lar ar­eas. Un­der con­struc­tion for two years, a ma­jor new Africa Rocks project opens this sum­mer at the cen­ter of the zoo. The eigh­tacre habi­tat is the largest at­trac­tion cre­ated for the zoo in its 100 years in op­er­a­tion. The land­scape recre­ates parts of six African re­gions, with a 65-foot wa­ter­fall rep­re­sent­ing Mada­gas­car, and is de­signed to make ba­boons, mon­keys, ze­bras and croc­o­diles feel right at home. En­dan­gered African pen­guins have their own habi­tat, where the zoo hopes to breed flocks of baby pen­guins.

San Diego Zoo Sa­fari Park

Orig­i­nally a breed­ing fa­cil­ity for the down­town zoo, this 1,800-acre ad­junct park 35 miles to the north­east in Es­con­dido of­fers wideopen spa­ces where more than 2,600 an­i­mals run free. While it con­cen­trates on herd an­i­mals such as gi­raffes, an­telopes and rhi­nos from the African and Asian sa­van­nahs, the park houses about 300 species and sub­species.

Get­ting close to these crea­tures can be as sim­ple as walk­ing through ar­eas such as the Tiger Trail, the Le­mur Walk or the Chee­tah Run, where you can feel the whoosh of the world’s fastest cat speed­ing past you. Rid­ing on the pop­u­lar Africa Tram presents photo ops with herds of gi­raffes, crashes of rhi­nos and flocks of ex­otic birds. To fo­cus on a fa­vorite an­i­mal, at­tend an an­i­mal en­counter with zookeep­ers ex­plain­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Su­ma­tran tigers or train­ing birds for the Fre­quent Fly­ers bird show. For a com­plete over­view, join one of the var­i­ous sa­faris, un­der­taken by cart, car­a­van, jun­gle ropes or zip line. You can even sleep among the an­i­mals on a Roar and Snore Sa­fari. Like the down­town zoo, the Sa­fari Park cre­ates a lineup of spe­cial ex­hibits and an­i­mal pre­sen­ta­tions that guar­an­tee a new ex­pe­ri­ence even for vis­i­tors who re­turn over and over through­out their lives.

A CHILD GETS TO FEED a gi­raffe at San Diego Zoo, top; Flight­line Sa­fari, a zip-line adventure, above.

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