Admittedly, I have mixed feelings about zoos. On the one hand, animals in them are not roaming freely and lose lots of their natural instincts. On the other hand, it’s a way to preserve species and, in bringing them to the people, to have them understood and protected in better ways. I have grown up with zoos, and an annual visit to the Stuttgart zoological and botanical garden “Wilhelma” (named after the king who had it built) on my father’s birthday was a family tradition. As that institution may count itself amongst the biggest and most beautiful of its kind in the world, I was quite excited but also doubtful when my husband suggested the other day to explore the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
We arrived at the south entrance of the zoo on a sunny Saturday morning shortly after ten. We actually found one of the last parking slots in the shade and got our tickets – admittedly, it’s not a cheap adventure. But am I saying too much if I admit that the few hours we spent there created one of my most beautiful and impressive zoo experiences ever? For one, the Woodland Park Zoo is structured in continental zones which turns a visit into almost a safari where you see which animals inhabit the same climate and landscape. And, on another note, the areas reflect the plants, the landscape, and even the architecture associated with them in a most lovingly created ensemble.
For city children who have never had the chance to visit a farm, an entire section offers insights into what farm animals look like. Generous pens and corrals present fluffy poultry, cattle, pigs, and donkeys; a petting zoo is also included in the area. Gardening fans will find information on rain gardens and pollination. Close by is a huge walk-in aviary with the most colorful creatures you can imagine. The shade of huge trees and the soft lapping of a pond that has no artificial look to it at all made the illusion of walking through a perfectly natural environment almost perfect – had it not been for the big nets above, preventing escape of the birds, of course.
Further on, the zoo became a game of “Find the animal” because of the size and intriguing natural layout of the enclosures. We found ourselves standing tippy-toes in front of a tiger’s territory, guessing where he might be when one visitor suddenly spotted some stripes behind bushes. To see the tiger come into the open and to grasp the size of his head was awing. Or to see a couple of river otters cuddling against each other during their noon nap. The North-American section is partly laid out on a tree-path, partly in grottoes so you can observe the “wildlife” more closely.
In another area, the warthog came up close against the windows, all muddy. Two bears were causing laughter amongt the audience with their playfulness. Penguins were following some VIP visitors (I guess they were that because they wore badges and were inside the enclosure) like a kindergarten. Monkeys flew from tree to tree, while close by, in another big area, an orangutan was munching away on fruit in a tree-hammock. Zebras and ostriches where only to be seen from afar on a Savannah-like landscape, and we admired the structures of the African village that, for a moment, gave us the perfect illusion that we had entered another continent.
“No aquarium?” you might ask if you are not familiar with Seattle. Indeed, that is an entirely separate institution on Elliott Bay. And one that we haven’t explored yet. But it wouldn’t have fit the topical structure of the Woodland Park Zoo anyhow.
By the time we had “seen it all” and passed by countless restaurants, food and beverage stalls, face painting stations and souvenir stores in addition to the wildlife and colorful, picturesque landscaping, the zoo was teeming with visitors. Outside in the parking lot, cars were waiting for anybody to move and turn over their slot. So, if you entertain plans to visit that marvelous zoo, get up early and make your way there briskly. Otherwise your wait for cars moving out might outlast what you came here for in the first place.