The last pavilion is the Australasia Pavilion, which has seen many changes in the past few years, houses species from the Australian mainland and surrounding islands. One of my favourites and also the first animal you encounter upon entering the pavilion is the Matschie tree kangaroo. Shrouded in a hush of slight whisper, obeying “shh” signs, is a sweet animal with very deliberate movements and is usually perched in the crook of a tree branch. Unlike their mainland cousins these tree kangaroos, from Papua New Guinea, are mostly arboreal (tree-dwelling).
From whispers to laughter and squawking you next enter a lush habitat full of free ranging birds from the majestic Victoria crowned pigeon in brilliant blue to the Kookaburra, known for its loud and distinct “laugh”, a call used to declare its territory. I still think my ears are ringing from the last time I heard its loud, ear-piercing laugh.
It is here that you’ll find the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon. Found on a few small volcanic islands of the Indonesian Lesser Archipelago these lizards can be up to 10 feet long and top the scales at 330lbs. In 2003 the Toronto Zoo saw Canada’s first Komodo dragon hatchlings, a great success for these vulnerable animals.
When most people think of Australia they conger up images of marsupials (mammals that lay eggs) and here you’ll find plenty, such as the Southern hairy-nosed wombat, the short-beaked echidna and Bennett’s wallabies who share an outback inspired enclosure with burrows as well as access to an outdoor yard for the warmer months.
In 2008 the Australasia Pavilion was revamped to include the addition of the Great Barrier Reef exhibit. Here you’ll encounter spectacular seahorses, lavish lionfish and magnificent moon jelly fish. I remember when the exhibit first opened up and watching the quarter-sized jelly fish dance through the water, now most are the size of dinner plates. The highlight of the exhibit is a 23 foot long tank, holding 32,000 litres of water, that showcases various vividly coloured fish found in the Great Barrier Reef.
Opposite the Pavilion is the Aussie Walkabout, a large yard that’s home to emu, kangaroos and wallabies, where zoo visitors have the opportunity to walk through the exhibit along the path amongst these iconic Australian animals. During my last visit these were two baby Western grey kangaroos that are called joeys. One of the joeys hung out close to mom and seemed very curious with the people nearby as well as the emu that lingered nearby. The other joey, a bit of an odd ball, remained with his head stuffed in his mother’s pouch but its body out and standing in front of her, giving the appearance of an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. It was as if he was just not quite ready to face the day.
The last region and the oldest part of the zoo is the Eurasia region with all outdoor enclosures, covering animals from all over the Asian continent many of which are critically endangered. Eurasia is home to the zoo’s herd of critically endangered Przewalski horses, hidden in the tree tops you’ll find red pandas, Bactrian camels – one of the most critically endangered species on the planet, and across from the Barbary macaques is a family of elusive snow leopards.
Eurasia’s first enclosure is home to the impressive and highly endangered Amur (Siberian) tiger, the largest of the tiger species. As we approached, the tiger came swaggering up from the other side of the hill and sauntered over to his pool. After lapping up a drink he crept in and sat mostly submerged and took a mid-afternoon siesta. Even with two spunky and daring chipmunks darting through his enclosure, even directly in front of his pool, he couldn’t be enticed. He caught sight of them – perked up, but didn’t move. All I could think was ‘Wow, he must be one well fed animal and much too comfortable. No need to move.’
Back in 2008 the Toronto Zoo opened Stingray Bay, a seasonal exhibit where visitors have the chance to not only get up close and learn about several stingray species but also the chance to touch them. Over the past three years this exhibit has evolved to also include several species of sharks. On this visit, in 2011, Stingray Bay was home to the large Southern stingray, the cheeky cownose stingray, nurse sharks and bonnet head sharks (the smallest species of hammerhead shark). The nurse shark, the largest shark in the tank, is elusive and rarely wanders near outstretched hands; Southern stingrays are the largest stingrays in the tank and are calm as they hover close to the bottom while the cownose stingrays are swift and mischievous, swimming closer to the surface occasionally splashing unsuspecting visitors. Looking like miniature versions at 5 feet long, of their large (20 feet long) cousin the hammerhead shark, I was absolutely thrilled when I reached out and was able to run my hand along the dorsal (top) of the bonnet head shark. If I were to describe the feeling of the shark’s skin it would resemble a soft and smooth rubber. On this visit the Toronto Zoo even had a few bamboo shark and Southern stingray wee youngsters on display in the middle of the enclosure in separate tanks.
With the evolution from stingrays to the addition of various species of sharks, Toronto Zoo’s Stingray Bay is a great opportunity for visitors to learn about marine species and our impact on their habitats in a truly memorable and touching experience. And it’s a great way to wrap up a full, fun and fantastic day at the Toronto Zoo.