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Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s Magical Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater Show

Starring Professor Dumbledog and other awesome creatures

Published on: May 01, 2024

Wild wonders outdoor theater show Point Defiance Zoo and aquarium
Staff Biologist Adrienne Umpstead, and Zoological Aide Brynn Olive in Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s live animal show. Credit: Katie Cotterill

“Show me the magic!” shouted a few dozen audience members at a preview of “Extraordinary Creatures and How to Care for Them,” the enchanting Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater show at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA). My son and I were in the audience, and we’d been tipped off that reciting this incantation brings the performers to the stage.

“Extraordinary Creatures and How to Care for Them” opens for the season on Saturday, May 4, 2024.

"Colorful parrot in the wild wonders outdoor theater show at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium"
Staff Biologist Sara Mattison with one of the show’s most colorful participants. Credit: Katie Cotterill

Wild Wonders show

The show’s story follows a wizard who normally cares for a menagerie of mythical creatures using her magic staff. Her trusty pooch, Professor Dumbledog, also helps. (Fun fact: Professor Dumbledog is played by Rocket, a rescue dog from Guam).

Unfortunately, the wizard’s magical staff has broken. She needs a PDZA zookeeper’s help to learn how to care for animals without using magic. With assistance from a treat-loving cast of critters, the keeper demonstrates how to care for the animals’ physical health and how to provide them with enrichment activities that mimic life in their natural habitat. 

"Rocket in his costume for the Wild Wonders Outdoor theater Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium"
Rocket is ready to perform. Credit: Katie Cotterill

For a roughly 30-minute performance (sometimes the animals try to extend the run), there’s a lot going on. Spoiler alert: Special effects abound — look for a steaming cauldron, a spinning Vault of Variety that offers animal enrichment items and a spontaneous rainfall that my son is still talking about.

The jungle-esque scenery is stunning, too. Pouch rats scurry across a rickety bridge straight out of “Indiana Jones,” while a king vulture flies overhead and then shows off its skills perched atop realistic-looking stumps. The zoo staff built the set, leveraging the expertise of an operations employee who spent time doing set design in Hollywood.

"Jumbo jet in the Wild Wonders Outdoor theater show at Point Defiance Zoom and Aquarium"
Jumbo Jet is part of the “Extraordinary Creatures and How to Care for Them” cast. Credit: Katie Cotterill 

Stars of the show

Regular zoo-going families will appreciate that the cast rotates among more than a dozen featured animals. If you really love the show, you can revisit another day to learn about different animals, or experience seeing your favorites again. My son’s beloved stuffed animal is an owl, so he was overjoyed to see Forrest the Eurasian eagle owl soar overhead as we learned that multiple daily flights help keep his ridged wings in top shape. 

Our applause for the human cast was particularly enthusiastic. Real staff biologists and zookeepers play the roles of both the wizard and the zookeeper. I can barely remember the slew of appointments and practices I shuttle my kids to, but these pros managed to keep up with their lines — and even improvise when a couple of the animals operated on their own schedule. 

"Siesta in the Wild Wonders Outdoor theater show at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium"
Zoological Aide Brynn Olive giving Siesta a few yummy treats. Credit: Katie Cotterill

A sit-down lunch

Zoo days can feel action-packed and too full sometimes. Balancing a break for lunch with my urge to see everything is tough, so sitting down and catching a show is the perfect solution. My 3-year-old was quite content to sit still with his sandwich while we watched Twiggy the red-legged seriema (a South American species of bird) pick up a rubber frog and slam it down on the ground, just like it would in the wild.

A pre-show announcement cautions you to avoid the first three rows of bleachers if you’re having a snack, or you risk having Twiggy steal your goldfish crackers. If your visit coincides with a stereotypical Pacific Northwest drizzly day, know that the bleachers are covered so you can stay dry while you watch the show. 

"Till the aardvark in the Wild Wonders Outdoor theater show at Point Defiance Zoo and aquarium"
Tilli the aardvark is one of the animal characters in the show. Credit: Natasha Dillinger

Nearby fun in the zoo

Just around the corner from the theater, at the Little Explorers Nature Play Garden, is another opportunity for animal interaction. Beginning Saturday, May 4, the garden will host the Bugs Alive! program daily at 1:15 p.m. A large video monitor will magnify the coolest features of insects, such as a Chilean rose tarantula, tobacco horn worm and an emperor scorpion. Take a close look if you can entice your preschooler’s attention away from the nature play space. 

"Two boys looking at a scorpion at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium"
A blue emperor scorpion features in the Bugs Alive! program. Credit: Katie Cotterill

New in 2024

American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters will interpret select performances of Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater shows at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and at the Bugs Alive! program at 1:15 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Saturday, May 18
  • Sunday, June 9
  • Thursday, June 20
  • Saturday, July 13
  • Wednesday, July 24
  • Sunday, August 11
  • Thursday, August 22
  • Saturday, Sept. 21

The bottom line

While I’m not normally a “show” person when it comes to animal encounters, I found this wizard-y animal show to be a great fit for our family. It’s short and sweet, it packs in some sneaky animal education with a “wow factor” of special effects, and the theater is close to other complementary interactive experiences at the zoo.

We could spend a whole visit just in this corner of the zoo, and we are planning to do just that. My kindergartener has already requested a summer trip so she can check it all out, too.

If you go ...

Find it: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is located inside Point Defiance Park at 5400 N. Pearl St. in Tacoma. Find the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater on the east edge of the zoo grounds.

Wild Wonders showtimes: Starting Saturday, May 4, enjoy the show at 11:30 a.m. daily. A second daily show at 2:30 p.m. will be added starting June 17.

Admission: Entry into Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater shows is included with regular zoo admission or membership. Admission is $22–$25 for adults and teens ages 13 and older; admission for children ages 3–12 is $16–$18. Tots ages 2 and younger enter free. Online tickets are encouraged (and less expensive). A household membership (two adults plus dependents) costs $165.

Parking: The zoo has a large, free parking lot.

More fun at the zoo:

More fun around Tacoma and beyond:

Editor’s note: This story originally published in May 2022 and was most recently updated in April 2024 to include information about this year’s show.

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