So…summertime comes to a close, autumn approaches, school starts, and the holidays hover. What to do for a day trip at this time of year? Let’s go wild — as in, let’s visit some wildlife and head to the zoo!

Journal area residents are fortunate to have several excellent zoos within an easy distance from home. But did you know that the Philadelphia Zoo is the nation’s first, dating back nearly 140 years? The charter to establish the Zoological Society of Philadelphia was originally signed in March of 1859 – although the Civil War delayed the zoo’s opening until July 1, 1874. During its first year, it held a total of 813 animals and welcomed more than 228,000 visitors who came by foot, streetcars, horse and carriage, and steamboat to view exotic animals they’d never seen, from faraway lands. Still at its original location, amid a 42-acre Victorian garden, the Philadelphia Zoo is now home to over 1,300 animals of every shape, size, and species – many of them rare or endangered — with about 1.2 million guests arriving through its gates each year, making it Philly’s leading family attraction for young and old alike.

The zoo’s focus is on educating the public about exotic animals while promoting and participating in global conservation efforts for endangered wildlife. It takes pride in its state-of-the-art animal exhibits, excellent animal healthcare facilities, award-winning programs, exceptional guest services, notable advances in animal science, and more.

One of the zoo’s newest attractions is KidZooU, a wildlife academy that merges a world-view education center with an up-close-and-personal children’s zoo. Opened in April of this year, it offers dynamic, hands-on displays for toddlers to tweens in a year-round indoor/outdoor environment that is home to goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and miniature horses, as well as coral reef fish, butterflies, domestic rats, parakeets, desert ants, and more.

A new Animal Trail and Exploration Trail System – the first in the country — provides an innovative, interactive experience where animals move along, above, and across visitor pathways as you travel across the zoo campus. Look up as you go, and watch for the primates as they explore the treetops overhead!  Additional trails at varying levels will be opening beginning in 2014 for big cats, bears, gorillas, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, and zebras.


The lush, colorful, and exotic habitats of the McNeil Avian Center hosts over 100 spectacular birds from around the world, while the Reptile and Amphibian House exhibits more than 100 species such as king cobras, anacondas, rattlesnakes, giant tortoises, alligators, poisonous dart frogs, and more. Time it just right, and experience an Everglades thunderstorm, or stroll along the Tortoise Trail to get face-to-face with the 500-pound inhabitants — including Mommy, believed to be one of the oldest living Galapagos tortoises in any U.S. zoo, who recently celebrated her 80th anniversary there.

On the African Plains, you’ll find white rhino, zebras, giraffes, hippos, and gazelles. Elsewhere, the First Niagara Big Cat Falls features snow leopards, pumas, African lions, jaguars, and leopards that move in groups from one exhibit to another via overhead tunnels. In the PECO Primate Reserve, two and a half acres of indoor and outdoor space holds some of the most endangered primates. There, you’ll see western lowland gorillas, Sumatran orangutans, white-handed gibbons, and others chattering, swinging, and swooping through their interactive habitat.

Other not-to-be-missed attractions you’ll want to check out are the Small Mammal House (with a nocturnal wing), Bear Country, the Rare Animal Conservation Center, and Carnivore Kingdom.

The Philadelphia Zoo is located at the corner of 34th Street and Girard Avenue in Philadelphia’s historic Fairmount Park, just two miles from downtown Philly. It’s open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. From March through October, hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. From November through February, it’s open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Admission from March through October is $20 for adults, $18 for children ages 2-11, and free under age two. From November through February, the fee for adults is reduced to $18; children’s prices remain the same. For families in particular, a cost-saving option worth considering is the purchase of a zoo membership. Family membership begins at $115 and offers a full year of free admission, plus free parking (usually $15), free admission to special attractions and rides, plus additional discounts and perks at the Philadelphia Zoo and elsewhere. If you’d like to plan a wild visit to the City of Brotherly Love, go to the Philadelphia Zoo’s website at or phone (215) 243-1100.