"We need the tonic of wildness ... we can never have enough of
- Henry David Thoreau
The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park is an expansive wildlife sanctuary that
is home to more than 3,500 animals representing more than 400 species. Its
renowned botanical collection represents 3,500 species and 1.5 million
specimens. Over half of the Park's 1,800 acres (730 hectares) have been set
aside as protected native species habitat. Part of the Zoological Society of
San Diego, this park is truly a national treasure!
Welcome To The Wild
Just inside the entrance gates of the park is a re-creation of a Nairobi
village. Here, you'll find a pond with pelicans, storks, and flamboyant
flamingos -- plus monkeys, wild pigs, and the ever-popular meerkats. Here, too,
is the Hidden Jungle exhibit, an indoor greenhouse that offers glimpses into
some of the smaller, more subtle forms of life that make up a jungle.
Butterflies, hummingbirds, scorpions, and other insects, and exotic tropical
plants can be viewed close-up and personal in this climate-controlled
Also part of the Nairobi Village area is Lorikeet Landing, a place where you
can purchase small cups of nectar to feed the lorikeets, which are small,
social birds like parakeets. The friendly, colorful, and noisy tropical birds
land right on your outstretched arms, hands, and shoulders in this walk-through
Heart Of Africa/Lion Camp
But let's face it, we don't come to a wild animal park to look at tiny things
and birds. We come here for the beasts, and the bigger the better! And that's what
you'll find in the Heart of Africa exhibit. Not only are there cheetahs,
giraffes, and monkeys, but some of the more amusing species such as warthogs
and the stripe-legged, blue-tongued okapi are on display in semi-natural
habitats in this part of the park.
And if you want to see the King (and Queen) of the Jungle up close and
personal, don't miss Lion Camp, where nothing but a thick glass panel separates
you from African lions. Watch these majestic cats in action on the spacious,
grassy slopes of this exhibit.
If lions aren't big enough for you, don't overlook the elephants. Or, DO
overlook them, at the Elephant Overlook exhibit. The spacious elephant habit
includes a pond and trees for the elephants' comfort. Both African and Asian
elephants live here.
Kilimanjaro Safari Walk
The park's best leg-stretcher is the Kilimanjaro Safari Walk. This 2-mile
(3.2-kilometer) path includes both Lion Camp and the elephant viewing area,
plus some nice scenic areas in between, suitable for a picnic. Also along the
route are tigers, rhinoceros, and giraffes.
All roads lead back to Nairobi Village, and I ended my day at the Wild Animal
Park with a visit to the lowland gorilla troop in the Gorilla Habitat section
of the village. The gentle giants were in rare form this day, cavorting,
lounging, looking for all the world like a group of men getting together for a
poker game or a little football on TV. A large male gorilla can eat up to 40
pounds of food a day, and they did plenty of snacking as I and the other
There are plenty of things for the wee ones to do at the Wild Animal Park.
Besides feeding the lorikeets, they will enjoy the Petting Kraal at Nairobi
Village, where they can interact with gentle deer, antelope, and other
creatures. The Village also has novel playground equipment, such as hollow faux
logs, a giant tortoise shell, lily pads for hopping, and other simulated animal
habitats for kids to explore. Just south of the village is an animal-themed
playground to burn off a little excess energy. And the Discovery Station is a
kid-oriented learning experience offering crafts and other activities
throughout the day.
Getting To The Wild
San Diego's temperate climate makes the Wild Animal Park and its sister
facility the San Diego Zoo great places to visit any time of year.
The Wild Animal Park is located 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of downtown
San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido, Calif. For more
information, point your web browser to http://www.sandiegozoo.org.
Sally O'Neal hikes, bikes, and enjoys wild and domestic animals from her
home base in Washington State. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.