Springtime at the Toronto Zoo

My grandchildren became members of the zoo for Valentines. Shortly after they did so, one of the four new lion cubs was named “Harrison,” just like my grandson. There is nothing like having a namesake at the zoo to promote frequent visits. So, Easter Monday, our grandchildren, my daughter-in-law, and guests from out-of-town were at the entry, as soon as it opened, to visit the animals. We were lucky. The rain and cold wind which blew into the city later in the day held off, but the threatening weather undoubtedly discouraged attendance and we felt that we had the zoo almost to ourselves.

The Toronto Zoo is a beautiful stretch of terrain, covering 710 acres (287 hectares) and, with 5000 animals, one of the largest zoos in the world. The many domains feature animals in their natural habitat, both indoors and out. The indoor pavilions are climate-controlled to simulate the geographic habitat; apart from the animals, fish, reptiles and insects, the areas are lush with greenery, and replete with flying birds. One need not be cold at the zoo.

The highlight of a springtime visit to the zoo is the many new little ones, who are garnering so much publicity. Two panda cubs, now named Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, were the first ever born in Canada (October 13th, 2015). They are now on display, sharing their indoor nursery with their mother Er Shun. When we arrived, they were sleeping, but mama was chowing down on the 42 – 64 kilograms of bamboo which is her daily feed.

Juno, the new female polar bear cub born November 11, 2015, was romping in her paddock next to the adult polar bear terrain. Given her birthdate, the playful little bear has most appropriately been adopted by the Canadian Army and named after the Normandy beach where Canadian forces landed on D-Day in 1944.

We also saw the male Indian rhinoceros calf, under the watchful eye of his mother, Ashakiran (Asha for short.). Rhinos are exceedingly rare, and exceedingly endangered. Prized for the allegedly aphrodisiac qualities of their horns, poachers hunt them despite multi-million dollar protection programs in their home countries.

The webpage of the zoo features galleries of photos showing the new arrivals at different stages of their growth since their respective births. The pictures are fascinating. The Toronto Zoo is also on Facebook.

The Toronto Zoo is so large that no one can see everything in a single visit. We missed the four white lion cubs because there were so many old favourites to see: the orangutans, the Siberian tiger, the gorillas, the giraffes, the adult polar bears at feeding time and, of course, the otters, also when they were being fed.

My family has always been fans of zoos. Modern zoos make animals readily accessible to the public in their natural habitat, and allow us to conduct research and breeding initiatives necessary for their survival. What better way to encourage the public to learn about animals and to care about their ongoing well-being?

We love to tell the old stories of when the zoo first opened in 1974, and the early mishaps which occurred. Once, it appeared as if the lions could jump across their newly constructed moat. Another time, a scrawny penguin was said to have been placed on an island amidst some seals to see if they could co-habit without one eating the other. And then there was the time the wolves escaped from their paddock in the Canadian domain. They were gone for some time, and the Toronto Star ran a cartoon showing the wolves (outside their enclosure) taunting their keepers. No, they didn’t want steak, or a television set, but maybe if you brought in some female wolves. Eventually, they did return.

The Toronto Zoo is a great spot to entertain and educate kids and adults alike and walking around it is a good workout. Clearly, a wonderful way to spend a day.

Photos courtesy of R.A. Church. Thanks Ryan.

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