A Visit to the Heartland: St. Louis Zoo
Tucked away in the heart of the beautiful historic Forest Park, the St. Louis Zoo is hands down my favorite zoo to visit as of yet. Entrance is free, the naturally forested setting is stunning, and it’s collection of species is quite unique. If you’re looking to visit a zoo with unique species not found at many other parks, you need to come here and see the Amur Leopards, Takins, and Tasmanian Devils.
1. It’s FREE
One of the most obvious perks of this zoo is the fact that entry is F-R-E-E. FREE. Visiting an accredited zoo of this scale with no admission fee is outstanding and you won’t find a better deal. In fact, almost all of the attractions in Forest Park are free and I have no shame in saying you would be an absolute fool not to take advantage of all of them.
2. A Shady Refuge
Often times zoos are miserable in the hot summers but because the St. Louis Zoo lives in the heart of Forest Park, there is no shortage of shade with the amount of trees throughout. I personally enjoy seeing greenery and feeling like exhibits are part of the environment so I appreciate that the zoo has made a conscious effort to preserve and maintain the large shady trees native to the area. The shade is definitely a welcomed relief during the heat of a Missouri summer.
3. The Historic Aviary
My favorite section of the zoo happens to be the oldest and most iconic of the campus. The Flight Cage, now home to the Cypress Swamp, was built in 1904 as part of the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute for a Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the cage was only meant to be a temporary exhibit in St. Louis that would eventually be moved to a permanent home in Washington D.C. It was however, too beloved by the citizens of St. Louis and funds were raised to keep it in place. By 1910, a Zoological society was formed and the city of St. Louis was on its way to building one of the top zoos in the nation.
Today, the Flight Cage is just as intriguing on the outside as it is on the inside. You are fully immersed in the environment as you walk through the exhibit and small birds scurry across your walking path and large birds fly overhead. It’s the perfect place for an eager photographer looking to get up close and personal with her feathered friends.
4. Somali Wild Ass
Among the many animal species that call St. Louis home, my favorite might just be the Somali Wild Ass. Found in the deserts and grasslands of Northeastern Somalia and Northern Ethiopia, these wild asses look similar to your common gray donkeys but have white stripes on their legs like zebras. It’s pretty striking and a bit odd to see in person. They each have their own personality and it’s quite entertaining to watch how each one behaves within the herd.
These guys are listed as critically endangered and the breeding efforts of zoos globally may be the only chance for ensuring the specie’s survival. That said, I was surprised to see that the St. Louis Zoo has a fairly large herd and have been quite successful throughout the years in breeding and welcoming new foals.
5. Sea Lion Sound
A trip to this zoo wouldn’t be complete without visiting the California Seal Lions at the Sea Lion Sound. This exhibit was extremely well planned as it offers multiple vantage points. Walking up to the exhibit, you can meet the sea lions face to face with a wall of glass looking into their pool. By walking into the cave, you enter an underwater tunnel that allows the sealions to swim alongside, over and all around you. It’s a full immersion experience and really fun to watch the playful pinnipeds interact with guests and each other. Once you exit the tunnel you can enter the above ground viewing area and see them pop their heads above water. During the summer, you can watch daily training shows and in the fall catch the shows during the weekends.
Room for Improvement
Finding something to change about this zoo is difficult when it’s clear that this zoo goes to great lengths to provide the best care for it’s animals and provide its guests an exciting yet comfortable experience. Throughout the zoo there are quite a few historic buildings that were built near the start of the zoo and while it’s important to preserve them, some of them could use some updating on the interiors to provide larger habitats. For buildings like the Primate House, exhibits could be combined or rearranged to provide the apes and monkeys larger enclosures to keep their active minds stimulated.
A Few Tips
I always recommend arriving at any zoo earlier in the day, preferably when gates open. Among many other benefits, early arrival will guarantee you convenient parking, smaller crowds, cooler temperatures and more active animals. An added benefit to arriving at the St. Louis Zoo within the first hour of opening will give you free access to the Stingrays, Carousel and the Children’s Zoo.
Must See Exhibits
Although I encourage you to see all of the zoo, there are definitely a few stops throughout that you won’t want to miss. Stop by the Polar Bear, Asian Elephants, African Wild Dogs and Sea Lions as these guys seem to be very active all throughout day and you’re very likely going to get to seem them on the move. If you’re looking to stay indoors, step into the Mary Ann Lee Butterfly Wing of the Insectarium to walk amongst butterflies, moths and dragonflies.