Taking a Friday afternoon off to attend the 40th anniversary Toronto Zoo party was a great idea. It was a fun party with free cake and cupcakes, special animal encounters, face painting, buskers and so much more. The zoo has spent the past 40 years saving and protecting species at home and abroad. Precious work indeed.
My top priority was to see the giant pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, who are visiting the Toronto Zoo until 2018.
Not far from the entrance, I found these adorable and chunky pandas lounging by the pond. Their roundness and their furriness, plus their big arms, just make them seem like the best cuddlers ever. I loved this particular enclosure because there isn’t glass or wires interfering with my sightline and photo opportunities. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Toronto, visiting the pandas should be at the top of your list.
The Toronto Zoo’s interpretive center prepped me for a greater appreciation of the pandas with all sorts of interesting information. Do you know just how small they are when they are born? Do you know how many types of pandas exist? You’ll find out at the zoo.
The panda’s digestive system inefficiently processes bamboo so they must eat quite a lot of it. They can spend 10 to 16 hours per day foraging for food. Every time I see a panda, he or she is eating. They are truly eating machines. Pandas have broad, flat molar teeth to chew on bamboo and an enlarged wrist bone that works like an opposable thumb.
I was watching this panda sit by the pond while eating the bamboo. He seemed settled in and ready to eat the whole thing, but he suddenly dropped what he was eating, got up and scooped out the bamboo branch from the pond. He then sat back down on the rock and began eating this second helping.
Did you know it isn’t easy to tell the gender of a giant panda under the age of four? Due to the difficulty of determining the sex, Er Shun was thought to be a male until genetic testing was done.
At the Indian Rhino exhibit, we found that Meet the Keeper was scheduled to start in a few minutes so we waited and it was very fortunate that we did. The zoo keeper taught us the difference between types of rhinos. The Indian rhino has one horn, which is more like a stub and is not used for defense. Their segmented hide looks like a coat of body armor. Indian rhinos can move pretty quickly as we got to see firsthand as Ashakiran did quite a bit of running and ran from end to end. Rhinos are surprisingly nimble despite their bulkiness and can change direction quickly.
It is horrifying that poachers kill these creatures for their horn. Some people claim ingesting the ground up horn can cure cancer but, since it is the same substance as nails, you could just chew on your finger nails for same effect (if it were true).
I’d highly recommend going to the Meet the Keepers to find out more about the zoo dwellers. Here is the schedule.
The keeper asked us if we could name the five types of rhinos. Can you name them?
Hints: two names are based on colours and three are based on countries.
Answer: white, black, Indian, Javan and Sumatran.
The zoo is a great place to see all creatures great and small – sometimes they can be found together. It was a big surprise to all the zoo visitors to see this little groundhog bravely hanging out near the humongous rhino. I watched the little guy look for food around the heavy-weight rhino and was amazed that he did not look terribly frightened. In fact, the rhino stepped back from the groundhog. I heard that some humans think groundhogs are afraid of their shadows. I don’t think so!
I was fascinated with the Sumatran tiger enjoying a frozen treat. The Toronto Zoo is having Frozen Friday until the end of August, which means the grizzlies, African penguins, polar bears and Sumatran tigers get frozen treats through the summer. Makes sense. I get a frozen treat at least once a week so why shouldn’t they!
Toronto parks staff were on hand to talk about various endeavors to keep species from going extinct. This cheery lady talked about bringing back the black-footed ferret and getting farmers to not destroy the prairie dog since ferrets depend on them for food and to create burrows. Prairie dogs make up more than 90% of the black-footed ferrets diet. The endangered black-footed ferret is a member of the weasel family and is the only ferret native to North America. To bring back the ferret we require large colonies of prairie dogs. So first they eat the prairie dog and then they take their shelter…wait a minute they’re a bit of a scoundrel. But undeniably cute.
Take on the challenge of animal photography.
So many of us love taking photographs and the zoo is a great place to enjoy it year round. I know many people who frequent the zoo specifically for photo expeditions.
The Toronto Zoo has great photo tips posted around the site for people wanting to move beyond just point and shoot photography.
Some animals move so fast that it is hard to focus so it is very good action photography practice. My greatest challenge is photographing the otter who swims so quickly and is constantly changing direction and orientation. It takes anticipating and following the action to take a good shot.
The zoo provides an excellent opportunity to train the eye to see whether it is for better photography or better observation skills. Look around you and see what are the colours you see and how do they look in the lighting. How is the lighting? What is the best framing? Think about how you can position yourself to get a neat shot. My eye was drawn to this pink-backed pelican in the African savanna not only because of his funky hair do but also because his colours are similar to the colours in the rock behind him.
We spent 5.5 hours at the zoo and still did not see everything but that is okay because we’ll be back soon.
Comfortable walking shoes are a must – there is a lot of walking involved.
Lots of walking, lots of beautiful animals, lots of photography (I took over 300 photos)…and I loved it! If I had the time, I would have sat down to sketch as well.
The zoo is a giant playground and you can easily spend the whole day there. Challenge yourself to learn and see something new. Or try a new challenge – perhaps you can take a collection of selfies with animals in background.