Nagasaki Penguin

Location: Nagasaki, Japan

Website: http://penguin-aqua.jp/english/

Highlights: Dive tank, outdoor penguin beach

Photos: Dec 2015

Children Friendly (8): A small indoor and outdoor aquarium which has plenty of hands on and interactive activities. Children would be able to complete it before getting tired. Most exhibits are easy to view for smaller children with multi-level viewing areas. I also noticed stools at a couple exhibits which would help as well. The outdoor exploration areas are very interactive with options for even more at an additional cost.

Animal Diversity (3): As the name suggests it is based around penguins, housing nine different species. I was surprised by the number of other species there though, with sharks, rays, fish, and invertebrates as well.

Animal Viewing (9): I was impressed with how well we could see the animals both underwater as well as above. The dive tank was awesome showing the underwater swimming. No animals were off display during our visit as far as I was aware of. The outdoor swimming area was a very nice touch in showing what the penguins look like in a more natural environment. When they are in the water however the actual viewing of them is not as good as it could be.

Animals Happiness (9): All species appeared happy and healthy. Having the outdoor area allowed some individuals to have an even more natural environment to interact with. Most of the tanks were very realistic and appeared quite clean. As with most aquariums larger pool sizes are always needed, at this aquarium it was the one section of outdoor pools with above ground viewing that I noticed this the most.

Photography (7): In general the photography was actually quite good with very clean glass in the underwater viewing areas. The large main tank had a lot of water spots on the inside making it quite difficult to photograph through which is the main area they lost points in this section. There was some difficult glare in a couple displays as well. Most other tanks had low glass which you were able to take photographs over easily. The outdoor area also had no barriers making for good photography.

Layout/Map (9): The layout is generally a one way route but they do make it easy to cut through and go backwards and/or choose your own route to a certain extent if you want to see feedings or something first. There are a couple offshoots or dead end branches off the main path making it a little confusing in which direction is best to take. That being said the map is fantastic and numbered exhibits to show the proper course. It is also has cartoon figures and colourful making it more exciting to look at!

Hours (9): Open year round every day is obviously a huge plus! They are open 9-5 every day with it extended to 6pm in August. I do understand it gets dark early but I feel they could extend their hours a bit, even opening an hour or so earlier.

Price (10): Absolutely awesome prices. About $5 for adults and $3 for children up to Junior High age. Free admission to children under 3 and senior citizens who are residents of Nagasaki city. Their year round memberships are also an amazing deal, saving money by the third visit. Even though you have to pay for parking, the cost is minimal and with such low admission costs I feel like it is not that much of an annoyance.

Food (7): A decent selection of drinks and ‘light meals’. It’s not huge but the prices are okay and if you are peckish during your trip you can head there. Since it is a small aquarium I understand not having a huge amount of options or a large cafeteria but if you are in need of an actual MEAL this isn’t the best place for you.

Website (10): A very well done website actually. The English version is easy to navigate, gives all relevant information, and is still nice to look at. It doesn’t look overly different from the Japanese version just more simple and streamlined.

Gift Shop (7): The gift shop was small but had quite a bit of merchandise in it. I did appreciate that it was mainly themed around penguins and/or aquarium animals. The products were mainly what I consider Japanese style souvenirs and more geared towards children. Having a wider selection, especially for adults would be a good improvement.

Quiet Areas (7): Even though it’s a small aquarium there were more quiet areas than I thought there would be! Having outdoor portions allow for more space to sit quietly or regroup yourself. Having the dead end areas also does provide some quieter portions of the zoo as well which is one positive of them I guess! I would appreciate some more benches or sitting areas especially near the larger tanks to allow for more appreciation of the tanks. During busy days I imagine it is quite busy though with not a lot of room to spread out and get away from crowds in the indoor areas.

Safety/Cleanliness (8): Cleanliness was well done throughout the aquarium, more so than I expected with the constant indoor/outdoor traffic. Low exhibit walls/glass could pose a safety hazard to children if leaning over them. It was raining slightly during my visit and it did make some areas of the flooring quite slippery, especially on the stairs which could be quite dangerous to guests.

Extras (8): It does appear they have quite a few extra programs on their website including feedings (both by zookeepers and the public) as well as interactions with the animals. They have small tours and parades throughout the days and even experiences riding in kayaks. They could expand more into summer camps and the like considering their outdoor space.

Overall (7.9): It was an enjoyable aquarium, especially if you love penguins! They had good exhibits with the outdoor one adding an interesting touch. A fun way to spend an afternoon but nothing state-of-the-art.


REVIEW: Tennoji Zoo

Tennoji Zoo Review

Location: Osaka, Japan

Website: www.tenzoo.jp/english/tennnouji.html

Highlights: Lion exhibit, Sea lions

Photos: Nov 2015

Children Friendly (6): The zoo isn’t overly large so children should be able to walk most of it. They don’t have a whole lot of extras in terms of entertaining like play areas, rides, or shows/demonstrations. There are some small aspects of each but not enough to entertain a lot of kids or for very long. Some exhibits are also not the most convenient for little ones to see into.

Animal Diversity (6): The diversity of the zoo isn’t too bad in terms of representing across mammals, birds, reptiles, etc. but it isn’t that large of a zoo in general. They have your basic high profile zoo animals (elephant, giraffe, lion, etc) but lesser known animals will not be well represented.

Animal Viewing (5): It seemed about a third of the animals were off display when we were there. Many of the animals had quite a bit of their enclosure which made them well hidden from view as well. One big issue I have is quite a few of their animals are taken off display 30mins-1hr before closing. Close earlier or leave the animals out later, there is no reason to be open with half the zoo away for the night.

Animals Happiness (5): Tennoji Zoo is the third oldest zoo in Japan and it definitely shows in this case. The exhibits are not very large and quite a few are clearly still in the pit style. It looks like they have done some updates such as the elephant exhibit but they have a very long way to go. More enrichment and natural flora in the exhibits would be beneficial for both the animals and the visitors.

Photography (6): Photography in the open pit style exhibits was decent in terms of getting good lines of sight of the animals and fairly close proximity. Many exhibits did have viewing from different angles and/or levels which was appreciated. The glass was desperately in need of cleaning at most of the exhibits both inside and out!

Layout/Map (6): The map was great; it was very accurate to the zoo itself and showed where animals and other facilities were nicely. That’s about all it had going for it in their category. The layout was all over the place it looks like they half tried to sort by species and half by region…meaning it hasn’t ended up being categorized at all. This wouldn’t be as bad if the pathways between exhibits were better planned. It would be very easy to skip exhibits or entire portions of the zoo here and some backtracking has to be done to see everything.

Hours (6): Hours are the general 9:30-5 every day which isn’t awful but I feel they could open a little earlier. Having the animals coming off display before 5 definitely cuts it short as well. They are closed every Monday which is where they largely lost points here.

Price (10): Extremely cheap! 500 yen for anyone about 16 years old; anyone under 16, over 65, or handicapped are free of charge.

Food (5): The food locations were not the biggest at the zoo. It seems to be a trend here in Japan of having more small (independent?) stalls selling food than actual sit down restaurants. They did not have a wide variety of food options or ones with the greatest quality. I would recommend going to one of the many restaurants in Tennoji park instead!

Website (6): The website is pretty mediocre. The English version gives you the bare minimum of information on the zoo – hours, price, map, directions and not much else. The Japanese version from what I can tell doesn’t open up a whole lot further either. It’s not a bad website, it looks okay, but if you’re wanting a lot of information or updates and things it is lacking a bit.

Gift Shop (6): There are a couple smaller gift shops throughout the zoo which carried a variety of products. There wasn’t anything exceptional about them. Most of the souvenirs were not of the highest quality but they did represent a large number of their animals. Some higher quality products and a range of gifts for adults would go over well for them.

Quiet Areas (8): With the randomness of their layout came lots of quiet areas and places to regroup. Multiple pathways to and from exhibits made areas feel not quite as crowded and allowed for some smaller pathways to be places to step aside. There were also a number of benches throughout. Designated rest areas are labelled on the map as well.

Safety/Cleanliness (6): The zoo was decently clean besides the glass on some exhibits. Some bridges and features in the zoo could do with a power wash or scrub though. In terms of safety some exhibits had signs up stating to not put hands through the fence but there was virtually no supervision seen throughout the zoo during our visit. They also have statues for photo opportunities which we witnessed many children climbing on (these statues are not small)!

Extras (5): Through their website they have podcasts and newsletters which are great resources. It does appear they have an events page on their Japanese site but not much is listed. Having more programming and educational activities would be a huge asset to the zoo and the guests.

Overall (6.1): The third oldest zoo in Osaka and unfortunately it showed. The exhibits are definitely in need of some updating with enrichment and more natural environments. If it’s a quick visit to see some popular animals then it’ll suit you but it isn’t the highest quality zoo.

Osaka Aquarium Review

Location: Osaka, Japan

Website: www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng/

Highlights: Whale sharks and the huge Pacific Ocean exhibit, Arctic ringed seal exhibit

Photos: Nov 2015

Children Friendly (8): An indoor aquarium circling around one large central tank means children would not get tired out quickly and can view everything in a couple hours. The majority of the exhibits have floor to ceiling glass so even little ones can get a good view without being lifted up. At the end of the aquarium are some touch tanks and more interactive areas but in general there is not much ‘extra’ for kids throughout.

Animal Diversity (7): They do showcase a decent amount of animal diversity. They focus on the “Ring of Fire” and have animals from a wide variety of water habitats. It is largely focused on the ocean and gives good variety of mammals, fish, and invertebrates.

Animal Viewing (5): Many exhibits it was a little difficult to see the animals. Many exhibits were multiple stories high so the animals were not always in view when you passed by one section of their exhibit. On crowded days you would also have to be right at the glass to see which means not the best view of the exhibit either.

Animals Happiness (5): The draws for this aquarium are the large animals: whale sharks, dolphins, sea lions, etc. While they do have huge tanks for them…they still are not big enough. It is a little deceiving as you walk through as the exhibits are multiple stories high, but they are actually not that wide. There also wasn’t very much enrichment observed in many of the exhibits.

Photography (5): The lighting in the aquarium when I visited in the evening was not the greatest, some exhibits were quite dark. The glass cleanliness was ok, some exhibits were extremely difficult to shoot though (the penguins especially). Viewing glass was often curved and the angles depending on where the animals were in the exhibit were not good. Photography at the aquarium would require a lot of patience and visiting during off peak times for sure.

Layout/Map (4): The map was accurate to the building but sometimes it was a little confusing where you were. While I like the idea of being able to see exhibits at multiple levels and angles it ended up feeling very repetitive in this case. Especially if some animals are not being very active it ends up just looking like a big empty tank for the next one or two times you pass by it. They also had some small exhibits in small side rooms on some levels but they seemed very disjointed. It’s also virtually impossible to skip to areas quickly or backtrack to see feedings, etc if you wanted to.

Hours (9): The hours are pretty standard throughout the year and being indoors they are quite long as well. Closed only four days out of the year is pretty good. They do have some months/times when they are open a half hour earlier/later as well.

Price (7): The price is pretty standard for aquariums anywhere. A little expensive for the amount you can do within but not outrageous. There are discounts for seniors, students, and children as well. Their annual pass is a pretty good deal if you live close by and planning on going multiple times. They are also part of an Osaka city discount pass which would be a good idea for tourists.

Food (5): Due to the timing of when I went I did not eat any food and the main restaurant was actually closed. They do have multiple food areas on sight though with a sit down type restaurant and more fast food one available. Unfortunately I cannot find anything online via their website or otherwise in terms of prices or options.

Website (9): The English and Japanese versions of the website are quite different but they are both pretty well done. The English website looks great and they did a good job of showing which animals they display and what inspired the design of the aquarium itself. The only this I feel it is lacking is information in regards to the restaurants actually at the aquarium (not in the mall next door) and any events that happen throughout the year.

Gift Shop (10): The gift shop was pretty well done. Their small one towards the entrance/exit was clean and classy. They had souvenirs for multiple age levels and featuring a number of different species…not just the whale sharks! On the lower level they also had a much larger shopping area with more species represented and different products.

Quiet Areas (8): Being indoors and one directional it is difficult to have quiet areas and spots to collect yourself. They do have quite a few benches and areas to rest and view the exhibits which was nice. They also have a number of small ‘wings’ off from the main path which are often not exhibit space necessarily which are good spots to step to the side out of the path of others.

Safety/Cleanliness (8): The aquarium was quite clean during my visit but I can easily see the glass getting dirty very quickly during the busy season. In terms of safety they did quite well. The touch tanks were a little concerning as there wasn’t a lot of supervision when we were there and the rays and sharks within were of a decent size. It would also be very easy for someone to reach over and try to touch the penguins in this area.

Extras (8): Through the Japanese website it shows they have quite a few other programs going on such as newsletters and events. School programs, night tours, and research programs all take place at the aquarium. I love that they have downloadable wallpapers from their website as well!

Overall (7): This aquarium was pretty impressive for the reason of seeing whale sharks alone. While some of their exhibits were very well done and I like their idea of multi-level viewing it did end up feeling very repetitive by the end. If you’re wanting a more interactive zoo with shows and play areas you’re better off somewhere else. This is a good aquarium for sitting and watching the tanks.

REVIEW: Toba Aquarium

Toba Aquarium

Location: Toba, Mie, Japan

Website: http://www.aquarium.co.jp/english/

Highlights: Animal feedings (sea otters, sea lions), Japan river exhibits

Photos: Nov 2015

Children Friendly (9): A fun atmosphere for kids, lots to see and do. Most exhibits are at their level and easy to see the animals. Mostly indoors and not huge means little legs will be able to walk through it all before getting tired. It also wouldn’t consume your entire day going there unless you’re really taking your time. There are a couple more interactive areas for kids to explore.

Animal Diversity (9): Their diversity is actually one of their main selling/advertising points – the most diverse aquarium in Japan (and I would argue the world?). I was amazed by their diversity! They definitely highlighted Japanese animals, more specifically local ones which I appreciated. They had an impressive range of fish, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even some birds! They did a good job of showcasing animals which were not necessarily fully aquatic but still fit into an aquarium setting.

Animal Viewing (9): This aquarium also did well in this category. Almost all the animals advertised were on display/easy to see. Quite a few of the exhibits had multiple viewing areas, viewing from multiple sides, and/or multi-level viewing. Tanks which did not have any of the previously listed features often had large viewing screens making it still easy for viewing by multiple guests at a time.

Animals Happiness (4): This category was the aquariums biggest downfall. While the smaller aquariums were really well done and showcased very natural environments for the animals within, the larger exhibits were lacking quite a bit. Particularly the aquatic mammals such as the dolphins, seals, and walruses, the tanks were quite small and lacking in enrichment items. While it looks like they’ve taken considerable care in smaller exhibits, they need to spend some serious time and effort making the larger animals exhibits equally as enriched. If this means reducing their diversity to do so I think it would be to their benefit.

Photography (7): Lighting was done quite well in the aquarium and photography in general was pretty good. Some of the glass dirty or had quite a bad glare making it hard to get good photos. Having multiple levels/sides to exhibits helped this a little. Water clarity in some tanks also made it somewhat difficult to achieve clear pictures.

Layout/Map (7): The map was well done and showed the facility quite well. It did not list all the animals but did let you know the main features in each section. In terms of the layout that is where I took some points away. They have signs stating there is no suggested route and you are free to roam which in some ways can be good but also makes it difficult to navigate the aquarium a bit. With multiple floors and the entrance being in the middle (both vertically and horizontally) I imagine many guests end up missing an entire floor or wing quite easily.

Hours (8): Open year round and what appears to be every day the hours are fairly good. For a mainly indoor facility I expect longer hours into the evening, even if that means having limited access to the outdoor areas.

Price (6): The price was fairly high, especially considering the typically low prices of zoos in Japan. While they do have quite a large variety of animals and you can spend a significant amount of time here, the quality of the larger exhibits needs to be higher for this kind of price.

Food (8): There are a number of food options at the aquarium including sit down eating as well as more fast food type options. The food appeared to be mainly Japanese style at the restaurants with set meals. Prices weren’t too bad but I’d like to see a bit more variety.

Website (9): Their main Japanese website it done quite well with lots of information and graphics. Their photos on the website are quite accurate of what you will see in person which is great. Their English website is in need of some updating, while it is sufficient it is in no way comparable to the Japanese version.

Gift Shop (10): There were multiple gift shops in the aquarium, large and small ones. They had great variety in their souvenirs with products for both adults and children. I greatly appreciated their focus on animals they indeed had at the aquarium with items representing all the categories of animals which was great. They also had some smaller stores with products more representative of the area of Toba itself, for example pearls, which is a great touch.

Quiet Areas (8): Being a mainly indoor facility this tends to be a more difficult area to score really well in, but they did quite well. Some of the levels were quieter than others and they had benches throughout the floors for guests to sit and take a break. There were also a number of bathrooms throughout.

Safety/Cleanliness (7): The main area they lost points in this category is the high number of open top tanks. This makes it quite easy for guests to drop things in, purposely put hands in, or anything along those lines. There were also touch tanks in the outdoor area with minimal signage and some species which should maybe be monitored with guests more than they were.

Extras (7): From what I can tell they have a number of extras at the aquarium. They have a sea lion show as well as multiple feedings throughout the day for different animals. The feedings/keeper talks I did see were also long which was nice, if you arrive a couple minutes after the scheduled time you will still be able to see quite a bit. On their website they do have an events page but not much was listed the times I have checked, it may be a slow time of year but more events or programs would be a huge plus.

Overall (7.7): The aquarium was pretty well done, although its location is out of the way for most people visiting Japan, their animal diversity alone makes it worth a visit. I was able to see a number of species I have never seen before and their smaller exhibits were very well done.

REVIEW: Sumida Aquarium

Sumida Aquarium Review

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Website: www.sumida-aquarium.com/en/

Highlights: Natural Aquascape tanks, Penguins

Photos: Sept 2015

Children Friendly (7): I wouldn’t describe this aquarium as geared towards children. Children would still enjoy it I’m sure but it doesn’t have the interpretive areas and fun cartoon graphics of other aquariums and zoos. Many exhibits are on a child’s level and the penguins especially would entertain them. Some tanks many children would be tempted to touch or put their hands in (which I happened to witness on my trip).

Animal Diversity (3): Being an aquarium it naturally has less variety than other zoos. It does have penguins and fur seals which does add some larger animal diversity. Japanese species are well represented.

Animal Viewing (9): Animal viewing was quite good, many of the tanks had viewing from all sides which was great. The penguins and fur seals had a walkway above which allowed viewing. Some exhibits were quite low which is great for kids but older guests would have trouble viewing.

Animals Happiness (8): The tanks seemed quite clean and well maintained with natural environments. I would like to see a larger exhibit for the fur seals with some more enrichment. I also removed a mark as some exhibits have a lack of cover for the fish (ex. the tanks with viewing from all sides).

Photography (6): The photography in aquariums can be quite tricky sometimes with the lighting and I found this one especially so. The overhead lighting was quite dark which did make the exhibits pop, but when you got to the penguins and seals and the lower level it was too dark. Also with their main area of tanks that allow viewing from all sides it could be quite difficult to get shots without other guests in the background.

Layout/Map (8): A one way route through the aquarium was fairly well laid out especially considering the location. The multi-level worked well for the larger main exhibits but I feel some exhibits could be easily missed on the lower level. Good signage inside showed directions which was appreciated.

Hours (10): Great hours! Open every day of the year and great hours everyday, 9am-9pm. Works well for tourists and frequent visitors alike.

Price (5): Fairly steep pricing, especially considering the prices of zoos in Japan tend to be quite cheap. This is one of the top tourist areas in Tokyo with Skytree in the same complex, BUT for the size of the aquarium I feel it was too expensive. Discounts are available for students and children. Memberships were a decent deal being double the single entry price.

Food (7): Even with the aquariums small size and huge selection of restaurants nearby they do have one inside which surprised me. They offered a decent variety of food and desserts but if a full meal for a family is required you might want to check out somewhere else. The gift shop also had quite a bit of snack options.

Website (9): The website is quite well done, giving visitors a good idea of what the aquarium will be like. Simple layout and easy to navigate are a huge plus. The only thing it is missing is information about events or seasonal changes.

Gift Shop (10): The gift shop was quite large and had great diversity in types of souvenirs and species showcased. They had great educational products, souvenirs for children, small and large gifts. The aquarium has a very simple, classy logo and it works well for merchandise. Adults and children alike will be able to find something they want to take home.

Quiet Areas (9): Although it is small the aquarium did do a decent job with providing benches and seating to take a break. Rooms are available for nursing moms away from crowds, as well as multiple changing tables throughout the aquarium. Due to its location there are definitely going to be times where it will feel overcrowded I’m sure.

Safety/Cleanliness (8): The aquarium was very clean, both for guests as well as the animals. Entirely indoors, it is well kept and modern. In terms of safety some tanks have open tops which can be dangerous for small children or overly curious guests. There are also stairs in the aquarium which could be troublesome for elderly guests.

Extras (6): There were not many extras noticeable throughout the aquarium in terms of interpretive stations, talks, or demonstrations. No events are listed online either. They do have an area which is said to host workshops but there was not one taking place when I visited. There are a couple behind the scenes areas showing the growth of jellyfish and other species which was quite interesting.

Overall (7.5): Overall I did enjoy this aquarium quite a bit. It was the classiest aquarium (or zoo) I’ve been to and it was an enjoyable way to spend an evening. It wouldn’t be my first suggestion for families but it would be great for a date!

REVIEW: Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo Review

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Website: www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/

Highlights: Gorilla exhibit, Nocturnal animals

Photos: Sept 2015

Children Friendly (6): The zoo is fairly large which involves quite a bit of walking, including some hills. For some exhibits viewing areas are at a higher level than small children. There is a Children’s Zoo area but I feel more interactive spots throughout the zoo would make it more children friendly as a whole. Some barriers would be quite easy for a child to cross if parents were not paying attention.

Animal Diversity (10): Quite a large collection of animals representing mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians well. Their species represent many different regions as well. Not only do they have all the major zoo draws but also some species I do not see often.

Animal Viewing (7): There were a couple of exhibits where I was unable to spot the animal, and a couple where it was very difficult to see them. Some exhibits this was due to awkward lines of sight from the viewing windows. I did appreciate having indoor viewing areas for the rhinos, giraffes, and hippos.

Animals Happiness (7): Most exhibits looked well done in terms of natural looking environments with plenty of shade and suitable vegetation. Some however were in need of updating such as the penguin and seal exhibits. Some animals were also seen methodically pacing, the tiger and sun bear most notably.

Photography (6): Although indoor areas provide viewing even when the animal is not on exhibit, they tend to not have the greatest photographic potential. Some outdoor exhibits were a little difficult as well with fencing choices.

Layout/Map (7): The map itself was quite good, very accurate to the layout of the actual zoo with animal icons which were also found throughout the zoo. A clear, colourful map. The layout was very disorganized. It was kind of separated by region, kind of by taxonomy, but not enough of either to make any real sense. The East Gardens especially had a lot of cross pathways making it easy to get disoriented and potentially missing exhibits.

Hours (7): The zoo is closed every Monday which is the main reason its score was reduced. If a holiday lands on the Monday it will be closed the following day, still reducing its open days for that week. Its daily hours are pretty standard, with slightly extended hours during the summer.

Price (10): The price is EXCELLENT. Not only are general admission prices only 600 yen (less than $10 Cdn) but they offer some amazing discounts on top of that for seniors, students aged 13-15, and groups. Children up to the age of 12, junior high students living or studying in Tokyo, and guests with disabilities and their attendant all receive free admission. These awesome rates are also reflected in their membership programs. They also have three set days a year that admission is free for everyone.

Food (6): The restaurant areas were not as frequent or big as expected for the size of the zoo. The menu options were also somewhat limited, offering some standard fast food, children friendly options. The quality of the food was lacking a bit I found. Foreign visitors would also be expecting larger portions considering the price.

Website (8): The website is quite well done, very simply laid out and easy to navigate. I do appreciate that the website gives a short history of the zoo and key features. I think adding more descriptive animal information and pictures would greatly enhance their website. Also news and event information would be appreciated as well.

Gift Shop (7): There were a number of gift shops which was nice but they were rather small and products were a little limited. Having feature animals is common in zoos but I found they focused too much on these and having a bit more variety would serve them well. In terms of types of products offered they had a decent variety, but more options in clothing especially would be nice.

Quiet Areas (8): I visited on a holiday weekend which was quite busy but I feel on a regular day there would be some great options. Even despite the crowds when I was there, there were moments to myself and areas which felt quieter. They also have designated rest areas and benches throughout the zoo.

Safety/Cleanliness (7): As mentioned earlier some barriers were not overly safe, most notably the indoor pygmy hippo exhibits. It would be easy for guests (especially children) to cross into the exhibit and be potentially injured. There are a couple of steeper hills which can cause concerns for strollers or wheelchairs.

Extras (6): One of the great extras I noticed was a portable information system which provides information about the animals and zoo as you make your way through. Available in a couple different languages I think this is an awesome idea which would be great at other zoos as well. There are a number of sculptures and monuments throughout the zoo which add to the zoo.

Overall (7.3): The zoo was enjoyable with a great variety of animals. I would like to return on day when it is not as busy and I can spend more time at the exhibits. Certain displays are in need of updating but considering the price of the zoo you’ll have a good time regardless.

FEATURE: Capybara

It’s feature time! The next animal I’d like to feature is the largest rodent in the world – the capybara! Native to Central and South America, the capybara is actually fairly stable in their numbers and relatively easy to keep in captivity. Males reach up to 150 pounds which is quite large considering fellow species in the rodent category (mice, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, etc). Similar to some other rodents they are often found in family groups, usually around 10-20 individuals large. Females produce 4-5 young per litter and they are communally nursed and raised by the females of the group.

Capybara young at the Toronto Zoo

Their common name, capybara, comes from the native Brazilian ‘one who eats slender leaves’, while their scientific name means ‘water pig’. Both these translated names tell a lot about capybara characteristics. Capybaras are herbivores eating grasses and water plants, as well as fruit and bark. They also practice coprophagy, eating their own feces. This helps to digest tough cellulose and gain more nutrients out of their diet. The capybaras most famous trait is their affinity for water. They are considered semi-aquatic, spending a significant time in the water. This is for many reasons: protection from the sun and heat, to escape predators, and for mating. They have adapted webbed feet to better swim and move along muddy banks, as well as thin coarse hair which dries quickly. Facial features towards the top of their head are easier for water living, and they are able to fold back their ears which prevents water from entering. Being able to remain submerged for up to 5 minutes also helps! Although they only live near water, they are not picky about the type. They are found along rivers, lakes, swamps, ponds, marshes, and even flooded areas. This water requirement enhances their viewing in zoos as well. Seeing them sitting or swimming in the water is interesting and fun for children. Capybaras provide an excellent educational moment for people of all ages: learning about the geography of their native habitat, the species which make up rodents, and adaptations essential for their survival.

Adult at the Toronto Zoo

Group of adults at Arashiyama Zoo

While they may not be one of the major draws to zoos, I have found that they are a fairly common resident of them! Check your local zoo to see if they have them!