The San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey exhibit opened in May, but I didn’t get over to see it until the baby okapi lured me to the zoo a few weeks ago. On one hand, I was excited to see how the new exhibit had turned out after seeing all the construction going on for the past year…on the other, the somewhat cheesy advertising campaign and increasing touristification of the Wild Animal Park over the last few years made me a little bit wary. In the end, I was mostly won-over by the exhibit’s wide-open spaces and integration of animal exhibits, educational info, and play areas . Take a walk with me and see for yourself…
One of the first things you’ll notice is that Elephant Odyssey is huge! There’s a looong entrance area with EO signs, sponser acknowledgements, and representation of elephant art throughout history:
Ok, I make fun of the elephant art a bit, but it’s pretty fun. One aspect I was not that fond of? The faux tar pit. There was a section of wall with embedded “fossils” that was pretty cool but didn’t photograph very well, as well as zoo volunteers displaying actual fossils from early California critters, but this tar pit seemed to be trying to hard- it felt like it was already dated after only being on exhibit for three months.
Some of the animals on display, which I don’t have good pictures of (thanks to crowds for some animals, and my lack of a digital SLR with a big lens on the other), were lions – just a thick glass window away from the adoring throngs, and a big improvement from the old lion exhibit; a jaguar, which seemed a little bit less initimidating that it used to because the floor of it’s exhibit was moved from chest-level to floor-level, making the powerful cat appear more diminutive; and California condors, long displayed at the Wild Animal Park but exhibited at the zoo for the frist time. Two young condors were happily hopping around the rocks in their exhibit while an older codor looked on (rolling his eyes at the young whipper-snappers, I imagine).
One of the themes of EO is the ancient animals of Southern California; it’s a popular theme around San Diego these days, as seen in the animal sculptures at Galleta Meadows and exhibits in the Anza Borrego State Park visitors center and a recent exhibit at the Natural History museum. I liked the wall of ancient California animals:
Of which the tapir is a particular favorite:
Just around the bend from this wall, you get your first real glimpse of the massive elephant enclosures:
Guess which animals are in the next enclosure?
The tapirs, capybarras, and guanacos (think llamas, but cuter) have a pretty sweet exhibit, with multi-level landscaping and a nice pool. I feel kind of sad for anyone who gets to the exhibit after about 10am though, because I’m pretty sure the tapirs will ALWAYS be napping in the shade, exactly where they were when I saw them:
Probably if I had an ultra-sweet DSLR with a big lens I could get an OK picture, but I’m afraid that most people won’t get a chance to see the tapirs up-close. It’s hard to count the toes from so far away. At least the guanacos are diurnal:
After walking around the tapir exhibit, you get a better view of the elephants:
And then, you can take a picture of yourself as a scientist – there were several different cutouts with various fields of expertise, and even though they were mostly all wearing the same white lab coats, I thought it was a fun concept…
I also liked the way EO exposes the Elephant Barn and care facility to visitors – it’s pretty impressive to see the massive scale of the building:
There was also a stream habitat, with tutles and allegedly forgs and lizards. I thought this was a really fun part of the exhibit, excapt that there are many fake frogs and lizards (not pictured) that have been added to the ladnscaping – it was kind of disappointing to have something catch your eye, only to realize that it was a scuplture instead of a real animal. I don’t think I saw any of the real frogs and lizards, but I did see a couple of turtles.
And another elephant!
There was also a fun playground area – there were elephant collars to crawl through, architectural dig scenarios to act out, and an animal X-Ray machine:
Overall, I thought it was a fun new exhibit, and I’m looking forward to going back (earlier in the morning when the tapirs are out and it’s less crowded, perhaps), to see how the residents are interacting with their exhibits. And to find the frogs and lizards that I missed in the stream habitat, of course.