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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 04, 2023

Rocket the rescue dog stars in Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's new Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater animal show reopening for Puget Sound-area families
The wizard and Professor Dumbledog, characters in Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s new live animal show. Credit: Katie Cotterill/PDZA

“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. My son and I were in the audience, and we’d been tipped off that reciting this incantation brings the performers to the stage.

The Care and Keeping of Creatures” opens for the season on Saturday, May 6.

A zookeeper, a wizard and a rescue dog play roles in the new Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater live animal show at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Credit: Natasha Dillinger

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 the rescue dog as Professor Dumbledog in PDZA's Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater show
Rocket stars as Professor Dumbledog. Credit: Katie Cotterill/PDZA

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.

Live animal cat in Extraordinary Creatures and How to Care for Them at Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Sheldon the serval is one of the animal stars of the show. Credit: Natasha Dillinger

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. 

A bird flies over the audience during Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater show at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Clark the king vulture swoops over the audience. Credit: Natasha Dillinger

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. 

A young boy with curly hair watches the animal show from the bleachers at PDZA's Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater
Tilli the aardvark is one of the animal characters in the show. Credit: Natasha Dillinger

Nearby zoo fun

Just around the corner from the theater are two other opportunities for animal interaction.

The Little Explorers Nature Play Garden opened to kid acclaim last year, and beginning Saturday, May 6, the garden will host the Bugs Alive! program daily at 1:45 p.m. A large video monitor will magnify the coolest features of insects, such as a Chilean rose tarantula and a Peruvian cave roach. Take a close look if you can entice your preschooler’s attention away from the nature play space. 

Two young boys inspect an Emporer Scorpion with a flashlight at PDZA's Little Explorers Nature Play Garden
A blue emperor scorpion features in the Bugs Alive! program. Credit: Katie Cotterill/PDZA

Head across the way to visit the Budgie Buddies aviary. Budgies are palm-sized Australian parakeets that come in a kaleidoscope of blues, yellows and greens, and flutter about their space looking for seed handouts. Shell out $2 ($1.50 for members) for a long stick with birdseed adhered to one end, then use your best tweets to beckon the budgies down from their perches for a snack.

My son was a little nervous at first, but loved it when a few of them landed on my arm and he got to see them up close. He said their claws tickled a bit, but didn’t hurt. My 6-year-old (who was at school during our visit) might have felt more apprehensive about a bird landing on her, so I would have skipped the seed stick and just let her admire her favorite combination of budgie feather colors.

A boy feeds bird seed to a budgie at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's Budgie Buddies aviary repening for summer
Feeding the budgies in the Budgie Buddies aviary. Credit: Natasha Dillinger

The Budgie Buddies aviary reopens this year on Saturday, May 6, and will be open weekdays, 10 a.m.–noon and 1–3 p.m., and weekends 10 a.m.–noon and 1–4 p.m., through the summer season. Entry into the aviary is included with zoo admission or membership.

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 6, enjoy the show at noon daily. In peak summer the zoo may add additional daily shows.

Admission: Entry into Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater shows is included with regular zoo admission or membership. Admission is $20–$23 for adults and teens ages 13 and older; admission for children ages 3–12 is $15–$17. 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:

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