Zoo: Australian Outback and More

Clearly one of Asia's finest, a domestic Bactrian camel.

When I first conceived of this blog about a year ago, I envisioned cruising around the zoo and Safari Park and returning home to update readers about new comings and goings. I’ve done a bit of this, but I’ve also spent a lot of time highlighting specific areas and/or experiences for people who have never been to the zoo. This will be the first of a new type of entry that will read more like a trip journal than would a comprehensive guide to, oh I dunno, the Children’s Zoo. Read on for what I discovered this weekend.

Well, the thing that stuck out to me the most was the construction of the new Australian Outback exhibit. Details are a little foggy, but here’s what we know:

The future site of part of the San Diego Zoo's upcoming Australian Outback.

  • The centerpiece will be the traditionally-styled Queenslander House, which will house the koala care center and allow zoo goers to look on as koalas are attended to.
  • Raised walkways will allow guests to view the koalas from tree level, similarly to the previous set-up.
  • Tasmanian devils will one of the new additions to the zoo.
  • Other animals featured will include kookaburras (a kingfisher bird), wombats and I assume kangaroos and wallabies.
  • The Queenslander Education Classroom will provide close encounters with Aussie animals, as well as other activities.

The entire koala area has been removed to make way for the new building. In addition, the old area housing the kangaroos has been torn up, along with the lemur exhibit and some enclosures holding various hoofed animals. The Kiwi Trail, which offers a great shortcut from Africa Rocks and Big Cat Trail to Urban Jungle has been closed off, denying access to the nocturnal birds and some entertaining monkey houses.

The old koala enclosure has been demolished, will this be the site of the Queenslander House, or something else?

All told, the earth-moving is pretty substantial. Set to open in Spring 2013, it seems like the Australian Outback is going to be a pretty major attraction. And that should suit the zoo and its visitors just fine. San Diego has the largest zoo colony of koalas outside of Australia so I’m sure upgraded facilities will be welcomed by the zookeepers. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that koalas are very photogenic—featuring a great combination of instant recognizability, perceived cuddliness and slow movement.

Fun fact: A koala’s diet consists almost entirely of Eucalypt leaves, particularly Eucalyptus, which you can find all over Southern California. Unfortunately, Eucalyptus is an non-native, invasive plant species that is very difficult to kill and helps fuel San Diego’s infamous wildfires.

I walked through Panda Trek and appreciate it more with each visit. I’ve said this before, but the red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) are criminally under-appreciated because of their more famous relative. Even non-giant panda fans have good reason to venture down Panda Trek to see the reds alone. The growing Sichuan takin (Budorcas taxicolor tibetana) herd makes for a pretty good watch, as well. What makes Panda Trek really work is that it gives guests something to see while waiting in line for the giant pandas. Bottom line, it was a great idea and was very well executed. Props to whomever.

Paka, the male Malayan tiger sleeps near the glass in his Tiger River home.

I’d also like to give a shout out to patience. Anyone that visits Tiger River knows that the Malayan tigers (Panthera tigris jacksoni) enjoy spending time at the very top of the hill near their feeding area and the entrance to their quarters. This does not always make for compelling viewing. However, if they are up there and you really had your hopes set on seeing male Paka, female Mek or youngsters Christopher and Conner up close, try try again. We stopped by Tiger River again on our way out and were lucky enough to see the big boy Paka sleeping by the glass with almost no one there to see it.

Since it’s spring, the greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) are building their nesting mounds in their lagoon near the park entrance. No sign of eggs just yet, but the park is rife with very young local mallard ducklings. We saw them in at least two separate places.

One final note, the zoo had several young volunteers greeting guests and one young man showed me a plastic ball that Guapo, Elephant Odyssey’s resident jaguar (Panthera onca) had chewed up. The plastic was surprisingly thick, and it was pretty incredible to think that an animal could do that sort of damage with its jaws. The volunteer also told us a story of similar damage inflicted upon a bowling ball in just one night. Cool story, cool volunteer. I wish I had gotten his name.

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