Los Angeles Zoo: Affordable Family Fun? Maybe

Los Angeles Zoo: Affordable Family Fun? Maybe

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  1. There was a time when I avoided zoos because I found them depressing. Seeing all of those poor, helpless animals in tiny cages, their freedom revoked, barely enough room to move around let alone run, only permitted to eat what their keepers deemed was necessary, sleeping most of the time because there was nothing else to do when what little food they got was gone… Such sights always filled me with sorrow and pity. Then I lost my humanity one day, so those things no longer bother me.


    Actually, zoos play a vital role in preserving endangered species these days, and many animals born in captivity are released into the wild to help revitalize species that have been forced to the brink of extinction because of Man’s encroachment in their territory. This hasn’t stopped us from encroaching, of course, but it makes us feel better about ourselves as a not-even-remotely endangered species. Other animals born in captivity go to other zoos, which is a good thing as they no longer have to capture wild animals and deprive them of the freedom they deserve.


     The LA Zoo is involved in several breeding programs, and with very good success. It is one of the premier facilities dedicated to rejuvenating the California Condor, whose numbers had been decimated. However, you will see nary a condor in the zoo; but you will see scads of other cool animals.

     This zoo is one of the hilliest zoos in the nation, so even though it is not particularly large, you can get an excellent workout negotiating its many steep paths. Be sure you wear comfortable shoes.


    The zoo is divided roughly by continent with considerable mixing. Upon entering the zoo, the first thing you see is the somewhat new sea lion exhibit, with three separate tiers to allow viewing from above and below water level. A short walk brings you to one of the zoo’s most famous captives, Reggie, the alligator captured from Machado Lake in Harbor City. Once a pet and then released by his vacuous owner, Reggie’s been wowing zoo visitors since 2007.


    Once you get past the many touristy gift shops selling overpriced wares, a right turn takes you to the children’s portion of the zoo, where babies born in the zoo are kept safe from adults, most of which available for viewing. There is also a small and mediocre petting zoo, an exhibit where you can view the gophers through bubbles strategically placed within the enclosure, Adventure Theater and a number of caged animals, including the ocelots, which spend most of their time hiding.


     Several open exhibits follow (meaning you don’t have to look through chain link fences), most popular among these are the mongooses and the flamingos; but you’ll want to hurry past because those flamingos stink!


    For a metropolitan zoo (and especially for the second largest city in the country), the aviary is second rate at best, yet it’s one of my favorite parts of the zoo. Expect to climb—a lot—as stairs outnumber level walkways in this aviary.


    The koalas remain one of the more popular exhibits, but unfortunately the kangaroos and wallabies in this same area spend most of their time reclining and staring at visitors with bored expressions. Although the komodo dragons spend nearly all of their time immobile, the sheer size of these monsters remains impressive.


     Nearby you’ll find the reasonably new gorilla enclosure. The glass walls allow unfettered viewing, and if you get there early enough the apes may actually move around a little. During the Christmas season, several zoo animals get special treats. This guy looks as if it can’t decide whether to make friends with Frosty, or eat him.


     One of the zoo’s newest exhibits is not far away, and the Asian elephant enclosure is a vast improvement over the previous one. The elephants now spend much of their time playing and frolicking in the pond. There is an elevated viewing area near the aviary as well.


    Sticking with Asia for a bit, the orangutans are frequently amusing and spend a lot of time swinging around their elaborate apparatus. The chimpanzee exhibit also has glass partitions for easy viewing and the zoo contains several other primate enclosures, too many to list, including ever-popular ring tailed lemurs.


    Wild cats are scattered throughout the zoo. Most popular among these are the tigers and lions, even though these big cats spend most of their time lounging. The jaguar exhibit is pathetically small and the great cat often paces restlessly. Not far away is the much larger snow leopard enclosure, but because it’s so big and spreads upward from the small viewing area, you’re likely to see nothing but a lot of rocks. At the very far edge of the zoo is the small enclosure for the civet cat, which is one of my favorites because the cat is often active early in the day. But I warn you to keep your distance, as he has a habit of spraying visitors he likes.


     The fossas are a couple of the most unusual and attractive animals in the zoo and many visitors pass them without a glance. Are they a type of cat? They look like they may be related to the weasel family… or maybe they’re a type of dog…? None of these assumptions are correct: they are their own unique species. These arboreal carnivores are curious and often active, so be sure to stop by and give them a look.


    Ironically, some of the most active animals in the zoo are the giant tortoises, although this activity is in slow motion. The tapirs and jaguar are in this area, as are the giant river otters, which I consider some of the most attractive and entertaining animals in the zoo, despite the inadequately small enclosure.


     The zoo functions as a botanical garden, too, which explains the tags on or beside so much of the lush vegetation. Every now and then, the zoo releases monkeys into the park and you may spot one or two swinging from branches overhead if you’re lucky.


     The gerenuks are among the most beautiful creatures within the zoo and are often active throughout the day. These graceful antelope-like animals’ long, slender legs are excellent for jumping, which explains the high walls around the enclosure.


     The newest exhibit in the zoo is the LAIR Reptile House, which replaced the old and very inadequate reptile exhibit. I would love to tell you all about it, but considering how many years it took to build, my zoo membership lapsed before it opened and they no longer offer membership for couples so we’re not about to renew it anytime soon.


     About membership… this is the way to go if you plan to visit the zoo three or more times in a year and/or have a family. For each visit, the admission is $17 for adults and $12 for kids 12 and under (children younger than 2 get in for free). That adds up quickly if you have a family of four. I can tell you that individual membership costs $49/year (saving you two whole bucks if you go to the zoo three times in a year), but I can’t tell you how much the family rates are because the zoo’s website hides that information unless you fill out the online form and give personal information. They probably do this because the rates recently went up drastically. But membership includes a number of perquisites, most of which you will likely never use.


    Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
    5333 Zoo Drive
    Los Angeles, California 90027

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