Location: Bowmanville, Ontario
Highlights: Lemur encounter, Big cats
Children Friendly (8): In terms of walking size Bowmanville zoo is reasonable for children to walk the whole zoo without getting tired. There are also many elements designed for the children – there’s a splash pad area, a ‘Funland’, and grassy areas to run around. I did take off some points as certain areas would be hard to see the animals without being a certain height, as well the Funland area seemed a bit outdated.
Animal Diversity (6): This zoo does have a decent variety of animals from the big cats to lemurs and tapirs. I found much of the zoo had more of a petting zoo style however with a lot of goats and llamas to fill in space. Also not the best place if you want to see anything other than mammals as these are limited.
Animal Viewing (6): During my visit I was able to see most animals there however a lot of the exhibits provided the animals with an abundance of hiding spots or awkward viewing angles for guests. They did put in the effort with many exhibits to allow viewing from many angles so they did get points for that. During my visit their resident elephant was offsite at an event, which the Bowmanville zoo takes part in a lot of. Due to this they lost points as their elephant (and other event animals) would frequently be off display.
Animals Happiness (8): The majority of the animals I viewed did seem content in their surroundings with decent sized areas to move around. Pacing was noticed in many of the big cats and some exhibits did not have very much enrichment items.
Photography (5): I was quite disappointed with many of the exhibits and the fencing types used. It was difficult to get good shots at many of the exhibits due to the fencing – quite a few exhibits there was double fencing hindering shots. Also a number of exhibits were not placed near pathways which allowed for closer shots to be taken.
Layout/Map (4): The layout of the zoo is baffling to me. The first area of the zoo has exhibits placed randomly around – not on a pathway or seemingly planned design. The second area is almost like a wheel with a centre square and pathways leading off from it. These pathways are deadends meaning you are constantly backtracking and trying to organize what you’ve seen and what you haven’t. Also, the zoo seems to be separated by animal type – big cats together, hoofstock together, lemurs/monkeys in one spot, etc. however, they disrupt this with the Wild Woods. The map is the saving part here – it does have pictures of each animal allowing guests to somewhat make their way around.
Hours (7): The hours at Bowmanville are decent, consistently opening at 10am and ranging in closing times dependant on peak season and weekends. They are open from April until Thanksgiving (Canadian) each year. Slightly longer hours would be nice as well as maybe weekend hours throughout the year.
Price (7): The prices are reasonable, with discounted prices for seniors, youth, and children. As well they have a variety of membership options. I did deduct points as their prices are comparable to much larger zoos that offer much more.
Food (8): The food was quite good, offering typical attraction food – hot dogs, sandwiches, drinks, etc. The pricing was acceptable as well. There was also another food stand on the other side of the zoo from the main café.
Website (7): Overall, the website does give a lot of information to guests with plenty of stories and updates. The information you’d expect is there plus some extras including a virtual tour and the history of some of their more famous animals. I did take off some points as some areas of the website need a little bit of help to declutter OR need more detail. As well, some categories were a little confusing to navigate.
Gift Shop (7): Your typical zoo gift shop including clothes and toys. I was expecting it to be much bigger to be honest due to the size of the zoo. Nothing exceptional but it does offer souveniers.
Quiet Areas (4): There were plenty of picnic benches in the zoo, however they were placed in large grouping at ‘picnic sites’ so privacy or a quiet spot is not quite what they would provide on busy days. There were not many (if any) other benches or quiet spots to stop and take a break either.
Safety/Cleanliness (5): Much of the fencing at the hoofstock areas were right at the pathway and allowed hands and arms to fit through. Although these animals are generally docile the potential to get hurt is still there. Also, some of the smaller animals fit through the openings which is fun for many kids but a lot might be nervous around new animals. A big issue I had was in the first part of the zoo, no pathways lead up to the exhibits which are placed in a grassy area. Going to the zoo after a rainy day means plenty of mud and wet grass to walk through which is not ideal. Also it makes it a little more difficult to push strollers or wagons around for the day.
Extras (7): There are quite a few extras that Bowmanville does offer – camps for both children and adults as well as some behind the scenes animal encounters. Animal shows are put on multiple times a day which are entertaining. As well they do offer camel rides. As mentioned previously they do take part in many events outside of the zoo – although this does promote their zoo and animals to the public from other venues I feel it takes away from programs and events they could be hosting on site.
Overall (6.4): Overall Bowmanville zoo was a fun day out however I don’t necessarily feel the need to revisit this zoo. Unless I lived right near the town I feel I could spend roughly the same amount of money at another attraction that would offer more animals and a more updated venue. If you have young children this zoo could be ideal for you as it is not too large and does offer enough exotic animals to keep your children occupied for the day.