By Heather Larson
If you haven't been to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium lately, late summer is a good time to get re-acquainted. Both the animals and the zoo staff have been busy this year — the animals procreating and the staff working on a new show. Here are some of the most exciting happenings.
1. Clouded leopard cubs
The 5-month-old clouded leopard cubs exude more cuteness than a camera can capture. The animals are native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia and currently an endangered species, and Point Defiance is one of only three zoos in the nation with a viable clouded leopard breeding program. Earlier in the year, a contest was held to name these two cuties. The Thai names selected translated to Noble and Mischievous.
The zoo has two other pairs of clouded leopards and one of those pairs lives behind the scenes at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater.
2. Wild Wonders outdoor theater
Free with zoo admission, the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater show — which debuted in May — takes place at noon and 3:30 p.m. every day. The show features Captain Adventure, a villain, and Herald the Wonder Dog, who flies across the stage while staying atop his doghouse. Between 13 and 16 live animals are integrated into the performance including a tortoise, a vulture, a lynx, a kookaburra, a two-toed sloth and an aardvark with a 16-inch sticky tongue. (Not every animal appears in every show.) The theme of the story is “get outside,” which is a good one for children who spend too much of their day looking at screens.
Audience members are encouraged to donate small amounts of money to the zoo and in exchange they get to meet Herald the Wonder Dog. Get there early for bench seating. Otherwise you can watch from the grassy hill.
You can also see Tilly the Aardvark in her new habitat shortly after the noon show ends. From 12:45 p.m.-1:45 p.m., weather permitting, the theater staff presents the new aardvark digging yard, located between Red Wolf Woods and the musk ox exhibits.
2. Red Wolf Woods
A litter of red wolf pups was born this year on Mother’s Day. Not all survived, but the ones that did are on display in the fairly new exhibit — Red Wolf Woods.
It includes hardwood trees, low grasses and shrubs, and a stream—all designed to mimic the red wolves’ native surroundings, yet give zoo guests an unobstructed view of these beautiful animals, which have been brought back from the brink of extinction. In the 1970s, there were only 14 of them. Today they number about 300, many of which have been reintroduced into the wild. Point Defiance Zoo plays an integral role in the wolves’ 40-year recovery program.
3. Meerkat Mansion
Up the hill from the wolves in the Kids Zone, you’ll discover four very playful baby meerkats. Their favorite sport the day we visited must have been “piling on,” because they loved to climb over one another. Snuggling and wrestling fills out the rest of their day’s schedule.
Born in March of this year, you’ll need to hurry to see them while they are still babies because they become full-grown at six months of age. Members of the mongoose family, meerkats live in groups as large as 40. Everyone in the group participates in finding food, watching for predators and taking care of the babies.
4. Budgie buddies
After a drink or snack, take a walk through the Budgie Buddies dwelling. Before passing through the door, I recommend buying a seed stick for $1 so you can feed the parakeets. Beware that the birds will fly at you if you have one of these seed sticks because they are hungry. It’s very similar to walking into a butterfly house only the budgies won’t land on you, just on the seed stick.
It’s a fun, interactive experience kids don’t find at most zoos and which makes Point Defiance unique.
5. New visitors center
Although not zoo-specific, the new visitors center at Point Defiance Park is sure worth a visit. Located on the drive into the park, it gives visitors a chance to learn about Point Defiance Park’s history, recreational opportunities and natural areas through interpretive exhibits or by talking to an ambassador. Opened on May 25 of this year, it remains open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m through Labor Day.
On Saturdays and Sundays, a complimentary accessible shuttle service will help transport park visitors between eight destinations throughout the 702-acre park.
If you go
Where: 940 N. Pearl St., Tacoma, directions here
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily
Prices: Adults, $16; youths (ages 5-12), $12.50; tots (ages 3-4), $8.25; ages 2 and under free.
- Pierce County residents get a $2 discount on tickets.
- The zoo also runs monthly free days for Tacoma residents; next one is Wednesday, Sept. 19.
- Buy online and save up to $2.50 per ticket!
Heather Larson, a writer in Tacoma, enjoys visiting kid-friendly places in Washington with her grandchildren and then writing about the experience.