Philadelphia Zoo


One of the three sites we chose to visit as part of our sightseeing pass was the Philadelphia Zoo.

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The Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest zoological park in America. The zoo was slated to open in 1859, but it was delayed for 15 years because of the Civil War. Finally, the zoo opened in 1874 with 1,000 animals, not too many fewer than they have today.

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Over 140 years later, the Philadelphia Zoo still welcomes millions of visitors a year, and this weekend Toby and I joined them for our first visit to Philly’s zoo.

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My first impression of the zoo was that it was nicely laid out, with reasonably sized enclosures for the animals.  It does have a bit of an urban feel to it, most likely because of the close proximity to roads and railroad tracks, but that doesn’t distract much from the overall experience. It actually reminded me a lot of the Erie Zoo, due in part to the age of the zoo.

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Aside from the surprising lack of elephants, the zoo featured most of the animals that you would expect to find at a large American zoo. Animals like giraffes, gorillas, and big cats, could be found roaming their enclosures or simply laying around enjoying the day.

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We did find that the Philadelphia Zoo offered one particularly unique feature that we had never before experienced in all of our zoo experiences: Zoo360.

Zoo360 is a campus-wide network of see-through mesh trails that afford the animals within the enclosures more opportunities to roam around and above Zoo grounds.  Zoo360 is the first of its kind at any zoo worldwide.

There are several components of this innovative experience: Treetop Trail, Great Ape Trail, Big Cat Crossing, and Gorilla Treeway, with more on the way. The trails link existing animal habitats with similar habitat requirements so animals can utilize each other’s spaces in a time-sharing system, and take advantage of having more room to roam. New destination exhibits will be created and designed to accommodate all of the species that would use each trail type.  We found that the Zoo360 experience enhanced our experience, creating a more dynamic engagement as animals moved around us, 360 degrees — along, above and across visitor pathways.

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It was pretty cool getting to watch the animals walk right above us as we strolled through the zoo.

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In addition to making the zoo experience more engaging to visitors, Zoo360 benefits the animals by offering more opportunities for long-distance travel, a greater variety in their environments and an increased ability to determine their own experiences.

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In addition to the thrill of seeing some big cats stroll above our heads, we also got to experience the delight of watching monkeys frolic above us along the Treetop Trail. The Treetop Trail is an elevated trail for small primates like the red-capped mangabey, black and white colobus monkeys, white-faced sakis, blue-eyed lemurs and mongoose lemurs, who love to travel and explore among the treetops.

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A momma with her baby.

My favorite stop was the PECO Primate Reserve, which featured two-and-a-half acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits.

We were drawn to this yard by the sight of the orangutans in the outdoor yard sporting pizza boxes and towels over their heads. Initially we thought that someone’s choice to litter resulted in some mischievous monkeys getting ahold of contraband, but soon discovered that their collection of “trash” was actually provided by the zoo staff as enrichment objects for the animals. This family of orangutans had ingeniously created sun blocks for themselves to battle the intense heat of the day. It was pretty cool to see how their minds work.

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The PECO Primate Reserve houses some of the world’s most endangered primates. We got to see gorillas, Sumatran orangutans, white-handed gibbons, black and white ruffed lemurs, golden lion tamarins and more. The best part was the sprinkling of babies through the exhibit that tickled us with their delightful antics. I could have spent all day in the ape house watching them play.

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Overall we found the Philadelphia Zoo to be a fun stop but not at the top of our list when it comes to the best zoos we’ve toured. In our opinion the Pittsburgh Zoo has it beat, but we had to admit that the Zoo360 experience was incredibly cool and worth the trip to check it out!

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