As we do every year, this weekend my family celebrated (Canadian) Thanksgiving, along with the shared birthdays of my boys, Jon and Aidan, and their grandfather. It always makes for a busy weekend and every year -except for last- we’ve spent one day of the long weekend at the Toronto Zoo. It’s a good way to work off all that turkey and pumpkin pie. A new exhibit called Tundra Trek opened last fall but our schedule got just too jammed up, so this was our first opportunity to check it out. The Toronto Zoo has had its share of challenges in recent years, including fund raising issues and a recent elephant death, but I’m happy to note that the new exhibit is definitely worth seeing and hopefully will be part of a resurgence in fortune for the facility.
Tundra Trek, the zoo’s sixth region was opened in 2009, the year of the zoo’s 35th anniversary. At 10 acres in size, Tundra Trek adds a number of new animals for viewing, while bringing back the polar bears that have been missing since their exhibit was closed as part of the refurbishment in 2007. The region features large habitats for the animals (the polar bear exhibit is five times larger than the previous version), allowing for more variety, freedom of movement and opportunity for the animals to interact. With a bright blue autumn sky, approaching Tundra Trek and seeing the brilliant white of a pack of Arctic Wolves standing on the crest of the hill in their habitat was striking. The polar bear water area doesn’t seem any different from its original state, but the bears now also have access to a greatly enlarged habitat, including grass scrub and a waterfall. Other animals showcased as part of this exhibit include Lesser Snow Geese, Snowy Owls, Arctic Foxes and Reindeer.
While I’ve always appreciated the Toronto Zoo for being a world class facility, Tundra Trek shows that the organization is continuing to move forward. The exhibit provides plenty of viewing opportunities while giving the animals a very large and varied habitat; at just six species on display in a 10 acre area, they aren’t crowded. To keep the visual interest more dense, however, numerous Northern-themed accessories are scattered about, among them: a bush plane, teepees and a Bowhead Whale Skeleton. There’s also an informational display about global warming and the threat it poses to polar bears as part of their exhibit.
While we’ve visited the Toronto Zoo at various times through the years, I still recommend people try going in the fall. It’s less crowded, the temperature is more comfortable for extended walking and in nearly a decade, we’ve only hit unpleasant weather once. Most of the restaurants are still open and it’s usually warm enough to eat outside on one of the patios. Best of all, you get the spectacular fall colors of the Rouge Valley as a backdrop. If you’re in Toronto in October, it’s a great way to spend a day.
PS. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the Great White North!