The San Diego Zoo has so many treasures from its flora to its conservation efforts and so much more like the San Diego Zoo’s secret gardens and Reptile House. From hidden pieces of art with a living past to the largest reptiles on Earth, this piece will explore these pleasures of the San Diego Zoo as well as introduce you to some interesting creatures from the small to the naked.
I’m always on the look out, while visiting zoos, for their hidden treasures like sculptures and artistic pieces that most zoos scatter throughout the park and many have inspiring stories. Many of these pieces pay homage to past iconic animals that have called that zoo home or even respect and honour to citizens who dedicate their time and/or money to help support the zoo and its conservation efforts. The San Diego Zoo had a few of these pieces that stood out like the bronze bust of Mbongo. Mbongo was a male mountain gorilla who was a resident of the zoo in the early days and while alive was an ambassador for gorillas in the wild by showing the public that gorillas are intelligent and gentle. His precious remains can now be found at San Diego’s Museum of Man. Another sculpture is of a salmon crested cockatoo named King Tut who was the official zoo greater for over 60 years from 1925 to 1989. King Tut was loved by all, entertained his keepers and visitors with his whistling and imitations of crying babies, clucking chickens and even meowing cats. A beautiful and inspiring piece called ‘boy and gull’ can also be found nestled in a secret garden of lush vegetation and beside a pool of water. The sculpture is of a young boy reaching up with a gull perched on his hand, this piece celebrates life in memory of Aylmer Illges Hollis and was donated by Mary Hollis Clark who was a fundraiser and civic leader in San Diego with a great appreciation for plants, birds and wildlife and so gifted this piece to the zoo.
If you head left at the zoo’s entrance you’ll find yourself in the San Diego Zoo’s Discovery Outpost exhibit. Here you can visit the Discovery playground, the Petting Paddock and some intriguing animals like the fossa. The fossa is a slender cat-like carnivore from Madagascar that isn’t a cat at all but a species of mongoose. It’s here you’ll also meet the zoo’s naked mole rats, to me one of the most fascinating creatures on Earth. Though their seemingly naked, these wrinkly animals with poor eyesight and large front teeth might look ugly, they are the only mammals known to live in insect-like colonies.
Visit the Secret Forest, a compost garden, to learn all about compost, how to do it at home and all of its benefits. An integral part of composting are insects and also here is the Insect House with a grand philosophy of ‘the littlest things have the biggest impact’. On exhibit are locusts, ants, stick insects, spiders and even a bee hive.
In the middle of Discover Outpost is a small gem, the Hummingbird Aviary which made it into my 5 Most Memorable Moments at San Diego Zoo. With an enchanted entrance that leads you into a lush rainforest-like habitat, home to hummingbirds like the western sparkling violet-ear and the northern broad-billed and other colourful and stunning birds like tanagers and honeycreepers, surrounded by bromeliads, impatiens and orchids. There are over 300 hummingbirds species and with an average weight of less than an ounce they still eat on average half their weight in sugar every day.
Enjoy a walk on the wild and scaly side in Reptile Walk, home to over 50 species of turtles, tortoises, crocodilians and amphibians. You’ll also meet creatures native to California like the desert tortoise which is California’s state reptile! It’s also here that you’ll meet the oldest residents at the San Diego Zoo, their Galapagos tortoises. With 17 individuals, many have called the zoo home since 1928 and are over 100 years old. With males tipping the scales at almost 600 pounds they are true giants. The zoo’s first Galapagos tortoise hatchlings were in 1958 and since there have been almost 100 successful hatchlings, an astounding achievement for these critically endangered creatures.
One animal you won’t see is the tuatara. Then why mention it? Because the tuatara is an amazing and unique animal, referred to as ‘living fossils’, they can be found at the San Diego Zoo though housed off display. The San Diego Zoo was the first institution outside New Zealand, where tuataras are from, to receive Brothers Island tuataras and are now one of only two zoos with a breeding colony. The zoo’s tuatara are thriving and coming into breeding age, these interesting creatures have a remarkable long lifespan of possibly over 100 years, especially for their small size of 1 to 3 pounds and 20-30 inches.
If it’s reptiles you’re looking for then you’ll love San Diego Zoo’s Reptile House, home to sensational snakes like the slender and vividly green Asian vine snake and lovely lizards like the Komodo dragon, the king of lizards at 10 feet in length and upwards of 200 pounds they are the largest lizard on Earth. There are also reptiles that are native to San Diego County like rattlesnakes and the beautiful red coach whip snake with it’s stunning pattern that appears to be braided.
Whether you’re in search of brilliant birds, giant reptiles or other intriguing creatures the San Diego Zoo’s secret gardens and Reptile House will have something to excite and entertain you.
To see more of my photos from my visit to San Diego Zoo visit Lady of the Zoos on Facebook.