The Toronto Zoo’s paths are easy to navigate; taking a complete circle helps visitors to not miss one precious animal. Taking the path clockwise you enter the region of Indomalaya where you’ll find plants and animals from southern and southeast Asia. The first animal you encounter is the lion-tailed macaques. These quiet and languid monkeys now enjoy a year round outdoor enclosure thanks to the use of geothermal energy. A few years back the zoo installed a geothermal system beneath their exhibit. This geothermal system is an innovative technology that has the least impact on the environment of any of the heating systems. This system uses the Earth’s energy to cool the ground in the summer and warm the ground in the winter, allowing for comfortable temperatures in the summer and keeping the ground free of snow and warm enough to forage through the ground litter in the winter.
After a stroll by the outdoor yards of the quizzical Malayan tapir and the armoured Indian rhino you enter the Malayan Woods pavilion. As the warmth and humidity of the pavilion surrounds you so do beautiful and delicate butterflies. Here you are instantly transported to a lush tropical paradise and are welcomed by brilliantly coloured butterflies fluttering by or perhaps landing on a section of fresh orange. As you lean in to breathe in the sweet smells of the jewels of this paradise, orchids, be sure to watch your footing as birds like the male crested wood partridge with his flaming red mohawk strut across the path. Also here are the charismatic clouded leopards with their dark soulful eyes and precious coats of fur. If you’re having a difficult time finding them look into the shadows of the large tree where these nocturnal cats are usually found curled up together.
Next you head towards a wooden path that’s elevated over the Rouge Valley. Surrounding and beneath you is this dense forest that is represented throughout the park, be sure to look for a glimpse of its varied wildlife. The wooden path leads you to the large Indomalaya pavilion where you will witness not only exotic animals but exotic plants. The Toronto Zoo is not only an acclaimed zoo but also a botanical garden boosting more than 3000 species of plant. Between the thick, larger than life leaves and the diverse species found in the Indomalaya pavilion are the always amusing orangutans.
With various vantage points to view the Sumatran orangutans, we first headed to the elevated viewing platform. Standing at the glass we were welcomed by one of the mothers and her young who sat leaning against the glass with her young nestled in her arms. Just as we thought this literal close encounter couldn’t get any better her young one started nursing. The intimate moment was then heightened as I knelt down to snap a photo of the pair I was met with these large, delicate yet intense eyes staring right into mine. It’s a remarkable experience when you share a moment of recognition, whether it be with another human or another species. It’s that instant when you look into each other’s eyes and say, “I see you”. That miraculously minute moment ended almost as soon as it had begun, and the little ball of fur was up and after its other young playmate. I kept an eye out for that one to which I now felt a great affection for and it was easy to do due to his fluffy hair and mohawk atop his head.
The two youngsters were extremely playful and active, sliding on their bellies along the ropes, chasing each other as they climbed higher and higher atop their tall climbing structure that reminded me of an over-sized version of the monkey bars from my childhood playground. It’s amazing that at such a young age, both only 5 years old, their dexterity and strength is so acute and powerful. The other young orangutan even sat atop one of the exhibits enrichment devices, an erect hollow log with a grate over the hole that is usually filled with food, and with a stripped stick in hand accurately stuck it through the grate to the riches below, perhaps honey or peanut butter, and pulled it out to lick off his reward. As I’ve mentioned so many times before, seeing a captive animal using their enrichment devices is great but combine that with one using a “tool” is astonishing. Visiting the Toronto Zoo over the past 30 years I’ve been witness to this use of tools by these brilliant orangutans many times and it awes me each and every time.
As the young did as the young do, their mothers watched on with sheets draped over themselves looking more like rust coloured Mother Theresas than doting orangutan mothers. One even took her sheet and soaked it in the water then draped herself again with the wet sheet. It’s so impressive to watch these remarkable animals do human-like tasks. Was she warm in the heat of the summer and soaked her sheet to cool herself?
Among the orangutans in the Indomalaya pavilion are a plethora of interesting animals; various birds large and small from the conclaved casqued hornbill with its massive casque atop its equally massive bill to the Nicobar pigeon with its iridescent green feathers that shimmer in the sunlight, even a variety of reptiles like the orange spotted blue tokay gecko to the longest snake and reptile species the reticulated python.
Just outside the pavilion heading towards the African Rainforest pavilion you’ll encounter the beautiful Sumatran tiger, the smallest and darkest of the tiger species. In 2003 the Toronto Zoo celebrated the birth of three Sumatran tiger cubs, the first of its kind in Canada. With my continued visits I had the great opportunity to witness the growth of these as well as two more cubs that were born in 2006, both sets from parents Brytne and Regnat who are now sadly passed. I have great memories of stopping by their exhibit and chuffing, a tiger greeting, to Regnat who always seemed to respond with one of his own. I must say it’s sad when a beloved animal at a zoo passes on, both for the keepers who have spent day in and day out with them as well as for the public who have grown up visiting them, much like myself. But to quote The Lion King, that’s “the circle of life.”