Where the Wild Things Are: The San Diego Zoo

On the most perfect of the many perfect days during our time in southern California, Jay and I decided to tour the San Diego Zoo.  I can’t really give an explanation why other than: 1) Jay had never been there and wanted to check it out and 2) I was very pregnant and rather grouchy the last time I visited and I felt like the zoo deserved another chance.  Located at the edge of Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo spreads out over many landscaped acres of hilly terrain.  The layout of the zoo is rather confusing, especially near the monkey exhibits where several levels of walking paths intersect, and the steep inclines are not for the out of shape or faint of heart.  Thankfully, double-decker busses transport anyone who is unable (or unwillingly) to make the arduous trek up and down those steep California hillsides.  Along with the bus ride, passengers are entertained by the driver/tour guide who shares snippets of information about the animals as the bus drives by.

We chose to walk.  It felt good to be outside, strolling in such beautiful surroundings peppered with exotic animals.  I have to admit that I’ve always been ambivalent about zoos.  Caging and penning wild animals for human observation and enjoyment, especially those animals which require square miles for roaming, running, and hunting in their natural habitat, causes me some distress.  On the other hand, I derive a great deal of pleasure from seeing (and photographing) wild animals I have little hope of observing in their natural habitat anytime soon.

Without this visit to the San Diego Zoo, I wouldn’t know that rhinos have tufts of hair on the tips of their ears, or that giraffes have chin whiskers, or that orangutans love their mamas for a very long time, or that lions sleep with their tongues sticking out just like my own little cats.  I guess I could have read all that stuff on a website or in a book, but seeing it with my own eyes makes all the difference to me.  There is no denying that the animals we saw were healthy and treated with care.  Their habitats were clean and thoughtfully designed.  The zookeepers (are they still called that?) were knowledgeable and showed obvious affection for their charges.  I was impressed.

We spent many hours meandering from exhibit to exhibit, reveling in God’s incredible creativity and sense of humor displayed throughout the animal kingdom.  Despite the bright sun and deep shadows, the very uncooperative subjects, and the problem of shooting through cages, I took a ridiculous amount of photos. Editing for this post was painful.  There are no shots of the park here.  Instead, the animals are the stars of this show.

{ The meerkats were very entertaining }

{ A new mama whose adorable cubs were sleeping inside, curled up in a furry ball. }

{ Lunch time }

{ For as big and ferocious as these guys can be, this is too cute. }

The big cats are some of my favorite animals.  Unfortunately, they were incredibly difficult to photograph.  Most of them were restless and paced incessantly around their cages.  Also, the cage grids were an issue when focusing the camera.  As a rank amateur, I did the best I could with my limited skills.  Any insights are much appreciated.

{ Just beautiful. }

{ Yes, the big tough rhinos were playing with cardboard boxes, the universal toy. }

The Animal Embassadors program was on display across from the rhino exhibit and turned out to be the most interesting part of our day.  When wild animals such as wolves or cheetahs are paired with domestic dogs as infants, they develop a very close lifelong relationship.  When the pair is old enough they can be used for educational demonstrations and goodwill events.  In these situations, the wild animal imitates the behavior of the domestic dog.  If the dog is comfortable and relaxed, than the wolf or cheetah will be as well.  Very fascinating stuff, especially after seeing the golden retriever and the cheetah sleeping together in the shade.  As a matter of fact, I was so enthralled, I didn’t take any photos.

{ The baby was very uncooperative, refusing to look in the camera.  Typical kid. }

{ This orangutan is 8 years old and still hanging out with his mother! }

{ There are many aviaries at the zoo which allow for an up close and personal experience with many bird varieties. }

{ Jay took these next few shots.  His hand is steadier in lower light, slower shutter speed conditions. }

{ The gorgeous sleeping lion I mentioned earlier.  We were so close, I could have buried my hands in his full, fluffy mane. }


  1. SD Zoo is worth visiting a number of times. Worthy, and it seems needed. It’s hard to cover all of it in just a day. When I visited it, I was literally just strolling. I knew I’ll just have to come back else I wouldn’t had enjoyed it if I tried to rush seeing all of it. Love all these focuses, now I’m very very shy showing the rest of my pics of SD Zoo.

  2. Think of modern zoo’s like this, without them many species would be extinct or worse off then they are because captive breeding programs are helping keep species alive with hopes one day they can be re-introduced to the wild. California Condor is a good example, in the early 1980’s there were a mere 22 birds left in the wild, all were collected and with the San Diego, LA Zoo and other agencies and organizations, there are now 405 of these birds with 226 in the wild. Without the zoo’s this bird likely would have gone extinct 30 years ago.

    • You speak wisdom. When I am thinking logically, my thoughts seem to travel along the same path. But I have this ridiculous tendency to attribute human thoughts and feelings to animals. And then I feel bad because my humanized animals are unhappy in the zoo environment they find themselves in, even though they probably have never lived anywhere else. Like I said, ridiculous. Thanks for the very sane and accurate perspective. I feel much better now.

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