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Wild things: Winter animal encounters

Published on: November 13, 2009

Wolf at Northwest TrekDuring the off-season, the crowds at local zoos dissipate as kids go back to school and tourists disappear with the sun. If you’re willing to brave a little weather, you’ll find quiet paths and plenty of elbow room in the exhibits — especially during the week.

Here’s what’s happening at Woodland Park Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Northwest Trek:

Woodland Park Zoo. Download the zoo’s Rainy Day Tour map for a list of warm, dry locations where you can take refuge if it’s pouring. The Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, which contains gemlike poison-dart frogs and an aviary full of free-flying, brilliantly colored jungle birds, is steamy enough that you’ll want to shed coats, hats and gloves as soon as you step inside. (On Fridays, the ocelot keeper gives a talk at 11 a.m., and the exhibit’s piranhas are fed at 11:45 a.m.) You could make a morning of it at Zoomazium, where tots can hang out in a fenced-off, nature-themed play area and sit in on storytelling or music sessions (daily, 10 a.m.–noon), while preschoolers toss themselves down the towering strangler-fig slide.

Northwest Trek. The Eatonville wildlife park’s narrated, 55-minute tram tours through the free-roaming-critter area run all year long, and winter is an especially good time to view the caribou, Roosevelt elk, bison and other hoofstock that wander there. “The animals are in their winter finery,” notes Tacoma Parks’ Whitney DalBalcon. “They have thick coats and they’re especially beautiful.” The warm, den-like Cheney Discovery Center, which is packed with interesting natural history artifacts (think skulls, bones and animal pelts that kids can handle) and activities for all ages, has been updated.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA). The zoo’s animal encounters and keeper talks continue during the winter months, so tots can learn about elephants, red wolves and Asian Forest Sanctuary residents without having to contend with crowds. Visit the Kids’ Zone, designed especially for children ages 3–8, at 1 p.m. daily to meet farm animals in Contact Junction. Need to warm up or escape a rain shower? At the aquarium’s Marine Discovery Center, kids can get their hands on colorful sea stars and other marine invertebrates; visit at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. and you can catch an animal feeding in the North Pacific and South Pacific aquariums. On Thursdays at 11 a.m., watch a dive presentation in the Outer Reef exhibit.

Kris Collingridge is ParentMap’s Out & About editor.

This article was originally published in the February, 2009 issue of ParentMap.

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