SAN DIEGO ZOO & SAFARI PARK
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.