On our last day in Phoenix we ventured out to Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, a lovely little zoo just outside Sun City West (where we were staying). Unlike the Toronto Zoo and similar, WW's footprint is relatively small and compact, which made it an easy walkabout even for tuckered travelers like ourselves. It combines both a traditional zoo and an extensive aquarium, which had the Girl in particular in a tizzy. She luuuuurves marine life and basically skipped her way through each and every pavilion.
The best feature of WW was our proximity to the animals. Unlike in larger zoos where the objects of our admiration hang out in their vast enclosures nearly out of eyesight, smaller habitats make the animals much more accessible. Which brings me to another amazing aspect of WW: in spite of smaller homes, none of the animals appeared distressed or anxious in their cages or pens. So many times I've been to zoos where the animals - particularly the large cats, but also bears, elephants and various plains dwellers - pace back and forth at the edge of their enclosures, panting and mewling. They're obviously unhappy, and it's incredibly sad to see.
The WW inhabitants, in contrast, were calm, relaxed and appeared contented. They were also very engaged - clearly the zoo staff take considerable time and effort to foster relationships with their charges, and a great number of them not only were comfortable with human interaction, they sought it out.
Take, for example, this adorableness:
Why, is that my kid handing a little monkey a water-covered leaf? Which it totally took from her hand, licked all the water off, then held its paw out for another?
Why yes. Yes it is.
Now before everybody starts freaking out about giving the animals things to eat/drink and how it's bad for them and dangerous for their health and ours, and generally sets a bad example: I agree with you. To a point. I saw kids at that zoo trying to feed cotton candy to a red macaw, peanuts to an ostrich and dropping wild cherry icee into the camel enclosure (as if a camel would be caught dead eating a wild cherry icee.) I objected to all of it (and in fact, stepped in on behalf of the macaw, who was seriously considering the offer.)
In this case, however, the water was bottled - therefore sterilized - and was delivered via a native plant leaf, so there was very little human-to-primate cross-contamination. Also a zookeeper who happened to be nearby did not object to the sharing, which says a lot because they were militant about policing visitor behaviour otherwise (they were NOT happy about the peanuts et al.) So it might not have been the best idea, but it was damn adorable.
Anyway, our experience with the animals was fantastically up close and personal.
As in, UP CLOSE...
Feeding a giraffe (zoo-approved food)? Yup. No biggie.
We cozied up closer to some of our favourite wildlife than we ever have before, and the kids loved every. single. minute.
In some areas the enclosures weren't even enclosed, per se. The spider monkeys inhabited a small, lush little island surrounded by a shallow moat, which served as the barrier between them and the zoo visitors that the monkeys had no interest in breaching. I can't tell you how cool it was to sit and watch them play and cuddle and groom in the open air, without any bars or wires between us.
Monkeys are kind of our favourite. Is it obvious?
And when I say "close" you might have thought I meant "very near." In fact, I mean SUPER-close. As in: petting stingrays like kittens was just another days work in our book.
My favourite photo of all perfectly encapsulates our experience: the Girl, totally still after a long, sunny day, completely engrossed watching the shark tank. That's the universal sign of "one happy kid" right there.
PS- You might be wondering if the Boy was with us at all during this outing. He was. But he's a teenager, with teenage peculiarities, and as such was not inclined to allow me to photograph him. For the record, he participated AND had a good time.