I have heard it time and time again…my visit was great BUT the animals were all sleeping! I’m going to give you guys some hard truth: this is not going to change. I’m hoping after reading through this post you will understand some of the reasons the animals will be napping, how to time your visits for the best active viewing, and how to still have a good time despite napping animals!
- Nocturnal: Zoos are open during the day. Just because that is when people are visiting and the zoo is open, does not mean that is when the animal is ‘programmed’ to be awake! Many animals are nocturnal meaning they are awake and active at night or crepuscular meaning they are active during dawn or dusk. Ex. Many rodents and most carnivores (leopards, tigers, wolves, etc)
- Lazy: Some animals are programmed to sleep…A LOT. For those of you that have a pet cat, you will notice sometimes they sleep all day. Many wild animals are just big versions of your cat. Lemurs, lions, hippos, sloths, and koalas all sleep for more than 16 hours a day! Many animals need to sleep that much to be able to digest their food. Fibre rich diets like those of the koala and panda require a lot of energy to digest. Think of it as these animals eating Thanksgiving dinner every day!
- Heat: Those steaming hot days in the summer make you drowsy right? Heat can affect animals the same way. No one wants to be running around in the heat so they will often take naps during the hottest times to try and stay cool.
- Pampered: Many animals have the luxury of napping in zoos since they do not need to hunt or forage for food. Through enrichment programs and creative exhibits zoos try their best to still encourage foraging behaviour or hunting techniques; however, this still will not require as much physical activity as their wild counterparts exert. If the grocery store came to you every day you’d probably spend more time relaxing too!
What a napping animal does NOT mean:
- Bored/sad: I have heard many visitors walk up to exhibits with napping or resting animals and exclaim ‘he looks so sad!’. While I can’t speak for all animals in all exhibits, this is most likely not the case. Respected zoos house animals which are well fed, vet checked regularly, and provided which enrichment. The majority of the animals do not know what it is like in the wild since they were born and raised in captivity; therefore they are not yearning to be set free. Long story short, they’re taking an afternoon nap.
- Drugged: I’ve also heard people comment that ‘they must be drugged, they’re in the same spot every time I’m here and are always sleeping!’. Besides the reasons I listed above, they’re probably napping in the same spot because it is the most comfortable.
- You deserve your money back: Zoos are there to showcase the animals and provide education on conservation issues. They are not circuses. If you want to see a lion like how you most likely would in the wild you will see it sleeping at 1pm. You go to the zoo to see the animals, if you saw it sleeping you STILL saw it.
When to go to avoid the nap:
- Opening: Visiting right when the zoo opens is a great time to see the animals first going out into their exhibits. Usually keepers will fill the exhibit with enrichment and toys, so the animal is most likely going to spend some time discovering these items. It’s not the peak temperature of the day yet either so many animals will be active and eating until the afternoon heat kicks in.
- Closing: Go later in the afternoon: Similar to morning, many animals will start to wake up and be moving around in anticipation of moving inside for the night.
- Feeding times: Check out the zoos website or call to see what the feeding times for each animal are. Many zoos will feed their animals at certain times, meaning the animal will be up and active in anticipation for it.
- Return: Keep checking back at exhibits throughout the day. Many animals don’t have a schedule and will be active unexpectedly. A lot about getting great shots or views of animals in zoos comes down to luck.
- Off season: Don’t go in the summer! Fall, winter, and spring are all great times to see the animals. The temperatures are lower meaning less afternoon naps to beat the heat.
How to make the best of it:
- Not moving: To be honest many animals are easier to photograph when they’re napping! Even though they are not up and moving around, you can still get some great sleeping shots. If you’ve ever tried to photograph some marmosets during a play fight or swimming otters, you may appreciate them staying in one spot for a bit!
- Detail shots: You wouldn’t regularly be able to take good photographs of the bottom of a polar bear paw or detail snake scale shots unless they were resting right?
- Butt album: One of the biggest problems is they’re napping out of sight or not facing the right way. Start a photo album of zoo animal butts, or feet, or backs of the head. Make it fun. Who knows, maybe you’ll start wanting the animals to turn away!
I hope this has helped you to understand when and why animals nap. I doubt you will be excited when your favourite animal isn’t hamming it up for the camera, but at least have a more positive outlook on it. Visit the zoos when the animals are more likely to be awake and respect the zoos that are letting their animals sleep when they want to.