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Nagoya Aquarium

Location: Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Website: http://www.nagoyaaqua.com

Highlights: Dolphin show, Kuroshio tank, Orcas

Photos: June 2016

Children Friendly (9): Very well done! The huge floor to ceiling viewing areas for many exhibits allow children to feel absolutely immersed in the experience. Up close views of the animals are easily accessible for even the smallest of children without the need to be lifted up. Plenty of talks, shows, and demonstrations will keep their attention as well. The touch tanks would need parental supervision and caution but everything else is well displayed for kids.

Animal Diversity (7): Quite a bit of diversity for an aquarium including large and small mammals, birds, turtles, fish, and invertebrates. They have a wide selection of the animals you would expect as well as nice displays of ones that are not as focused on like deep sea creatures. Many aquariums are either large marine mammals or a variety of smaller aquatic life, but Nagoya Aquarium is able to provide both.

Animal Viewing (9): Every animal that was promised was on display and visible. It also appears that there are not scheduled times where they are taken off display (during shows and talks you can still view them in the regular exhibits). The floor to ceiling displays of many exhibits also allows for viewing of many of the animals from a distance or above the heads of a crowd which is awesome.

Animals Happiness (7): Now I’m sure this will be the largest area of contention for this review. Yes, they house dolphins and whales, and yes after looking into them the vast majority are wild caught from the infamous Taiji. As I have never looked into where animals came from for past reviews and I feel this is a separate issue unrelated to the actual daily experience of visiting the aquarium I shall leave it as separate. It is widely reported that the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium has the largest outdoor tank in the world and I myself was impressed with the size of it. All of the whale and dolphin tanks are much larger than I have seen at other aquariums and quite clean. Also, none of these animals were solitary, with at least three individuals in each tank (thirteen dolphins were together in the largest of the tanks). While captivity is overwhelmingly criticized for these species I do give this aquarium credit for the amount of space and interaction these individuals get. Performing shows are also criticized but the show I viewed was much more educational than non-stop action. While tricks and stunts were performed the majority of the actions were natural behaviours done on command. Also, no humans entered the pool during the show I watched. Throughout the rest of the aquarium, I saw no animal welfare issues or unnatural displays. The exhibits for other animals throughout were also quite large.

Photography (10): I was absolutely blown away by the photography I was able to do at this aquarium. Aquariums are notoriously more difficult for taking photos due to the obvious glare from glass, fingerprints, curved/angled glass, and watermarks – but this aquarium had very little of any of those. I repeatedly said during the visit that everything was so clear! Considering the amount and size of the exhibits it really was impressive how good the shooting was.

Layout/Map (7): The aquarium is divided into two buildings – one for the large mammals (dolphins, whales, seals), and one for everything else. The divide makes sense in terms of zookeeping and logistics for displays and shows, but it would definitely create huge crowds in one area for much of the day. The layout itself is set up for a one way trip through the displays and for the most part is successful in having a natural progressions, however there were one or two times where I second guessed which direction was correct. This isn’t helped by the fact that you go back and forth between floors a number of times giving you the feeling that you haven’t completed it before moving on. The map itself is quite good and does it’s best with numbering the exhibits and providing guide lines – any confusion from the map I contribute to the route not the map itself. Plenty of pictures and details in the English map was greatly appreciated.

Hours (8): Fairly good hours with consistent opening times year round. Closing times are generally 5-5:30 in the slow seasons, with extended hours until 8pm during vacations and holidays. During the off season they are closed every Monday.

Price (8): Not as cheap as Japanese zoos but for an aquarium these prices are pretty good. Discounts for children, students, and groups are available. During the extended hours, night time prices are discounted. Memberships earn money back by the third visit which isn’t too bad.

Food (9): Actually quite the variety of food options at the aquarium. They have a full service sit down restaurant with a variety of dishes. They also have more of a cafeteria style restaurant with quite a few options for both adults and kids, at affordable prices! Near the dolphin show there is a food counter area with snacks and drinks. Quality of food seems decent and lots of options.

Website (9): A pretty impressive website! The English version has everything you could need (except for info about restaurants) and looks nice. They provide PDFs of both the maps and the event schedule on the site which is awesome. They do have this version of the website in three other languages as well. From searching through their Japanese site it appears they give a lot of detail about each exhibit (not just the most popular!) and plenty of news from the aquarium.

Gift Shop (10): Awesome gift shop! We experienced the Museum Gift Shop in the South Building fully, but there is also a gift shop in the North Building as well. The gift shop had a huge variety of souvenirs for every age group – clothing, stuffed animals, toys, stationary, decorations, etc. They highlighted quite a few of the species they housed, including ones that maybe aren’t as popular. While food is a hugely popular souvenir in Japan and they did have a large selection of cute food options to buy, the entire space was not taken up by it which I appreciated.

Quiet Areas (10): For being an aquarium I was very impressed with how well they incorporated spaces to rest and take a break. Benches or seats were present at quite a few of the exhibits and near many were boxes with padded mats you could use if you wanted to have a seat to take it all in (or during demonstrations). It was also a pretty spacious aquarium, I do understand I went on an off day, but even with crowds there should be enough area to be able to step to the side for a moment with your family. They also have a large outdoor area to relax or have a picnic.

Safety/Cleanliness (9): Very clean throughout the aquarium from the exhibits to the walkways and everything in between. I saw no cleanliness issues anywhere. Safety was also well done, with staff and security guards placed throughout the aquarium to monitor visitors and the animals. Touch tanks had staff present and hand wash stations. They do provide interaction experiences with the dolphins in some cases which I have said before are usually fairly safe but the potential for injury or mishaps is always increased.

Extras (10): So many extras! I was very impressed by how much they offer at this aquarium both as part of your entrance fee but also extras you can plan for. Besides the very well publicized dolphin show they also have a variety of keeper talks, training demonstrations, feedings, and movies in an IMAX theatre, all included with admission. From their website they also have sleepovers, yoga classes, dolphin interactions, educational presentations, and community events.

Overall (8.7): Overall, I was more impressed by this aquarium than I was expecting to be. The displays were big, clean, and provided awesome photography opportunities. They had a good variety of species to view and provided many opportunities to learn about them through talks and demonstrations. A fun family experience worth the money!

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Kagoshima Aquarium

Location: Kagoshima, Japan

Website: http://ioworld.jp/english

Highlights: Large multi-species tank, Deep sea dark area, Whale shark

Photos: Dec 2015

Children Friendly (10): I believe children would have a great time at this aquarium! There are so many ‘changes’ that occur they would not get bored easy. Changing floors and types of animals you see was great in keeping the anticipation of the next animal high. There was a play area AND an interactive zone full of hands on activities and exhibits for children to play in. The tanks and exhibits were at good heights for kids, many of which were floor to ceiling or close to it. They have outdoor exhibits for the dolphins as well as an indoor show area to keep the children busy throughout the visit as well. A big aquarium but not large enough to take up the entire day or exhaust the kids.

Animal Diversity (7): For an aquarium they actually have a large amount of diversity. They showcase a large amount of fish, invertebrates, and a handful of reptiles and mammals as well. You will be able to see a number of species not common in other aquariums which is great.

Animal Viewing (9): I was very impressed with the viewing of many exhibits. The tanks are for the most part quite big and have viewing on more than one side in many cases. Some exhibits have multi-level viewing and you can get right up to the glass to get close to the animals. Even the exhibits with hiding spots for the animals did not appear empty and most exhibits had plenty to look at. The glass was for the most part well maintained making it easy to see the creatures inside.

Animals Happiness (8): In most cases this aquarium was great in this category. The exhibits appeared very natural with plant life and natural looking hiding spaces for the more private animals. The larger animals are where they seemed restricted. The tank for the whale shark was noticeably smaller. For the dolphins it appeared their only indoor tank for night time was the show tank. During the day they are outside in the canal which provides a much more natural experience for them (and the guests). I also loved the dark area where you used red lights to view the animals, having the creatures in the dark for the majority of the time would make them much happier.

Photography (9): I was very impressed with the quality of the photography at this aquarium. At aquariums it tends to be harder to take good quality photos as the lighting and glass can be quite tricky. At this aquarium I did not have as many issues, the lighting was usually very well done. The glass was also quite clean, with only a couple exhibits having a little bit of problems with cleanliness above the water line.

Layout/Map (8): I actually really enjoyed the layout of this aquarium as it kept the pace well and introduced new climates/types of species in an interesting way. There were floor changes fairly regularly making it clear when you were changing what you were looking at and kept the anticipation up for the next exhibit. For 90% of the time you knew where you were going next, a couple times we would second guess if we were supposed to take a different route. The map, although a little confusing at first, is excellent. They provide just enough detail to sort out your whereabouts without being overwhelming. If they made it a bit bigger they would be able to put in some more detail. Also on the map it does not show the best time/way to view the outdoor exhibits or then the route to exit properly which was a little like a ‘what now’ moment.

Hours (9): Pretty good hours for an aquarium in Japan, they are open the same hours every day until 6pm. Opening time is 9:30 which I feel is a bit late, even just 9am would be better especially with how early the sun rises. They are closed four days out of the year at the beginning of summer which isn’t too bad. They also are open in the evenings until 9pm on weekends in the summer which is fantastic. I would argue those times on weekends year round!

Price (9): They have some of the cheaper prices for an aquarium I’ve seen, not only in Japan! At 1500 yen for an adult that is considerably cheaper than many I have been to. There are discounts for infants and children up to Junior High School age. The memberships are quite reasonable being the price of two visits (with discounts even more if you purchase two or members of your family purchase at the same time). Although there is a parking charge it is not overly expensive and is very close to the aquarium.

Food (9): Food options were good with a sit down style restaurant. They had a variety of easy fan favourites that were a good size and a decent price. They also had kids meals and dessert which was nice. I did take off a point as it would have been nice to have a couple more ‘fast’ or snack options somewhere else in the aquarium.

Website (8): The English site is well done with all the necessary information simply laid out. There’s nothing essentially wrong with the website but it definitely doesn’t do the aquarium justice. Having more photos or a map posted with some exhibits you see would bump this up for sure. The Japanese site is much better (not entirely different) and I love that their map online is interactive and shows you exactly what the exhibits look like when you click on them – very well done!

Gift Shop (7): I was a little disappointed with their gift shop to be honest, with the size of the aquarium I thought it would be better. There are two shops, both not very big. They do have quite a bit of whale shark souvenirs but overall variety was pretty low. More options for adults, more clothing, and less generic souvenirs would do wonders I think.

Quiet Areas (9): I was surprised at how well this aquarium did in this category. Most indoor aquariums with a guided route do not have many places to take a moment but this aquarium did really well. They had a number of spots you were able to cut through to a different part of the route which created areas to take a break. There were also a couple spots designed to regroup, take a rest, or just enjoy the view. I feel even in their busiest times there would still be a good flow throughout the route making it less congested overall. With the outdoor viewing of some of the animals it also makes for a larger area for people to gather and/or get away.

Safety/Cleanliness (8): In general this was a pretty clean and safe attraction. There were not any noticeably dirty areas or exhibits, the glass was kept clean and the exhibits were well maintained. In terms of safety, the interactive section did have rock you could lift up to reveal creatures inside which I feel could be slightly dangerous as some children would try to then pick up or touch those animals. Also the rock covers did blend in well and could be tripped over or stood on if not paying attention. A little more presence of staff in these areas might be a good idea.

Extras (8): Throughout the day there are multiple feedings at a number of different exhibits. There is also dolphin training as well as performances conducted every day. A daily talk by staff at a set location as well as a guided tour are available free of charge which is awesome. On the Japanese website it also appears there are workshops and events held regularly.

Overall (8.4): I would recommend this zoo to anyone visiting the area. The exhibits were nice, with a good variety of animals on display. The cheaper price than many aquariums nearby is also a huge plus. A great family outing or a fun date night!

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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.

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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.

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Maruyama Zoo Review

Location: Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Website: www.city.sapporo.jp/zoo/

Highlights: Red panda exhibits, Reptile house

Photos: August 2015

Children Friendly (9): There were plenty of children interactive areas throughout the zoo to keep little ones active and interested in the exhibits. There was plenty of viewing levels at the exhibits to allow for good views of the animals. The zoo itself is not overly large or spread out so children would be able to walk for most of it. The size also does not demand a full day visit.

Animal Diversity (10): I was impressed with the variety at this zoo as it did not appear to be overly large when looking at it online. I was even more impressed with the quality of their reptile and amphibian house considering they are not very popular in Japan. Birds were also well represented including a number of birds of prey.

Animal Viewing (9): This is a category that the zoo is clearly working on improving. During my visit they were undergoing major renovations which look to be almost complete and from what I could see are going to be some world class exhibits. Some areas are clearly also recently updated. These new exhibits feature multi-level viewing with fun natural type exhibits. The red panda exhibit was one that was truly well done, overhead walk ways leading to trees they could lounge in. There were some exhibits that the animals could not be seen, I only reduced their score by one point as they were clearly in the process of moving the animals to the new exhibits.

Animals Happiness (7): Again this ties into the above mentioned updates to exhibits. This zoo definitely used to be an old style zoo with pit style exhibits and less than spacious areas for the animals. These new exhibits they have constructed have corrected this problem providing new areas for elephants, giraffes, snow monkeys, lions, etc. I’m assuming once these exhibits have opened they will be moving focus to other exhibits in need of updating. While I applaud their effort in turning their zoo into a truly world class establishment I do have to rate what I saw on the day I was there. Their polar bear and seal exhibits should definitely be next on their list to renovate.

Photography (8): With their updated exhibits there were plenty of awesome photographic opportunities. Glass was decently clean and there were many areas barrier free for the camera. I was especially impressed with the reptile exhibit, the way they did the lighting and exhibit layouts greatly reduced glare and reflections on the glass. Some exhibit fencing was difficult to get good photos through but with the new exhibits opening many of these should be rectified.

Layout/Map (8): The map was decently accurate to the zoo layout and I appreciated the multiple map postings throughout the pathways. The layout was acceptable despite being slightly erratic. Having two entrances to the zoo makes it a little more difficult to organize the zoo evenly but I think they did a pretty good job considering.

Hours (9): The hours are consistent and they are open year round which is awesome. Similar to the other zoos in Hokkaido they have shorter working hours than I’m used to seeing but I did not punish them very harshly. I do think they could open earlier to counteract this though.

Price (10): Prices were absolutely amazing! Adults were 600 yen (around $6) and children are free, and by children they mean anyone under high school age!! You do pay for parking but again the cost is low, and with admission being so low I did not deduct any point. Year long memberships are also available for a whopping 1000 yen.

Food (9): There was food throughout the zoo, in many different forms. Restaurants, food stalls, food trucks, and even a convenience store! This variety of options in eating style and types of food is great for visitors.

Website (8): The website is pretty well done and appears to be kept fairly up to date. They do have multiple foreign language options which is great but it does not convert the entire website. The English site has the basic information but not much beyond that.

Gift Shop (9): There were a couple gift shops throughout, they weren’t huge but they did have good variety. They definitely know how to market themselves as I’ve seen Maruyama Zoo snacks throughout Japan. They also had a good variety of souvenirs for both adults and children. One thing that they showcased which I always enjoy at zoos is they sold products featuring animals they actually have at the zoo and a good variety of them too! They did focus heavily on the polar bear and I’m assuming that is their feature animal currently.

Quiet Areas (10): Multiple paths leading to and from exhibits meant there were plenty of spots to sit and take a rest. Large indoor buildings had benches and rest areas. There was more than one family area with tables, activities for children, and restrooms.

Safety/Cleanliness (8): Like most areas in Japan this zoo was quite clean. Safety was also pretty well done throughout the zoo. I did reduce the score for the petting zoo area as it always increases risk to visitors. Some fencing at exhibits would allow hands to go through as well.

Extras (8): There was a number of interactive areas and informational displays throughout the zoo. Keeper talks and feedings also seemed to be a common occurrence daily which always is great for visitors. On their website it seems to display plenty of events for visitors to attend.

Overall (8.7): I was thoroughly impressed by this zoo and would love to go back in a couple years when they’ve completed their updates. It’s great to see a zoo improving themselves and greatly enhancing both the visitor experience and the welfare of their animals.

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Parc Omega Rating

Location: Montebello, Quebec

Website: www.parcomega.ca/en/

Highlights: Timber wolf exhibit, Elk, Porch Birdfeeders

Photos: Album

Children Friendly (7): Being mostly a drive through park it is suitable for little ones not being able to walk far. With parking areas to walk around and play it also helps to prevent restlessness in the car. Children will love being able to hand feed a lot of the animals and approach some in the parked areas. With that being said, animals with their heads in the car or surrounding the vehicle could also be frightening for little ones. Certain areas it may be hard for children to see animals if they’re in the distance.

Animal Diversity (6): There were more animals present than I was anticipating. A variety of hoofstock as well as quite a few predator species were present, and it being on the large piece of land it is (forested with rivers and a lake) a large number of wild animals also call this place home. Basically if you’re wanting to go to a zoo to see what Canada has to offer in terms of wildlife – this is the zoo to go to.

Animal Viewing (8): The animals have no issues with approaching vehicles and therefore visitors get some great up close views of most of the species. I was also extremely impressed with the abundance of each species – if you saw one wolf, you saw twenty. I did deduct marks as depending on the season you may miss out on some of their bigger draws – such as the black bears. Also as the animals (besides the large predators) are allowed to roam wherever they please some areas may seem relatively empty or some species or individuals may be harder to see.

Animals Happiness (9): Parc Omega is on a huge piece of land and is largely open. The fact that the hoofstock are able to choose for themselves where they’d prefer to be day to day – prairie, forested areas, lake – is awesome for their health and happiness. In terms of the carnivores their exhibits are large and appropriately natural. Pack animals do indeed live in packs – good sized ones which allow them to exhibit natural pack behaviours. I only deducted points in the areas where people are able to walk around with the deer – yes they do have escape routes, but having children (and adults) running up or not approaching with respect can be stressful.

Photography (8): For the most part photography can be exceptional in most areas – close views and clear lines (windows are allowed to be partially open) throughout. The predator fencing, although wider which does help, can sometimes become a distraction since you are limited in how close to the fence you are able to get to counteract it. As I went in winter, some snowbanks proved a little difficult to shoot around as well. As there are plenty of specimens – if one is in a difficult position, I can pretty much guarantee you will find another in a better suited area. The only other reason I took off a point is that since the hoofstock are so used to being fed they constantly approach your car and windows. If you’re trying to take pictures of one of the predators say, it can get frustrating having a deer constantly having its nose in your window.

Layout/Map (9): I quite liked both their layout and their map. The layout I feel was largely determined by habitat and what was suitable for each animal – which I am totally ok with. I liked that they put their walk around area at the midway point of the drive through area. I did feel the other walk through areas were at an awkward spot and could potentially be bypassed. The map was well done – had plenty of information, was accurate to the layout, had pictures and a clear legend.

Hours (10): Open year round every day, with extended hours in the summers. No complaints about their hours.

Price (7): Their prices are decent, you can spend a good chunk of the day at the zoo so I feel that the prices are justified. There are reduced prices for seniors and children as well. I did deduct marks as they do not offer season/annual passes which I feel prevent some frequent visitors as multiple visits a year can become expensive.

Food (7): They do have a restaurant in the main lodge of the park. A decent variety of options with reasonable prices, the food we had was delicious. Not as many restaurants or as much variety as I am used to at other zoos which is where I deducted marks. If you’re prone to needing snacks throughout the day I suggest packing your own lunch as there’s no option half way through the drive through.

Website (10): The website is very well done – simple and effective. The headings and labels are clear and to the point. No information I feel is overlooked and their Frequently Asked Questions section covers pretty much anything you would need. I also thoroughly enjoy that they use an abundance of photos throughout to give you a good idea of what to expect.

Gift Shop (10): I quite enjoyed their gift shop at Parc Omega. It very much reflected the type of zoo they had – all stuffed animals were animals that you could see there and were of good quality. They also had a great variety of gifts and higher quality souvenirs – many Canada based. Clothing was also great quality with a large variety. Overall I was very impressed.

Quiet Areas (8): Since for the most of this zoo you drive around in your own vehicle, there are a number of places to pull over and take a moment. The large outdoor area half way through also provides plenty of space to get out of the car and take a moment. The zoo itself is quite large in size so in general even during the busy times the crowds shouldn’t be that bad; however, there could be congestions at some areas (entrance into drive through, bears, etc). Also in the out of car areas they could use some more benches.

Safety/Cleanliness (6): Cleanliness wise in general it was fairly clean. Being mainly outdoors with many trails obviously some areas could get muddy or dusty. Being allowed to open windows and interact with the animals obviously there can be a sanitary issue there – there are washrooms throughout with handwashing areas. I reduced the mark due to the safety issue with the animal interactions. The deer can get quite competitive and/or aggressive with approaching cars which, especially with antlers, can become a hazard to visitors. Also, the walking portions with free roaming deer can also become dangerous if visitors do not approach animals with caution and respect.

Extras (7): A big extra with this zoo is that they cater wonderfully to the seasons. Summer hours offer hiking trails and a farm with wagon rides, a sugar shack during sugaring season, and snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails in winter. The scenery throughout this zoo is exceptional – so even those just wanting a nice drive for an afternoon would enjoy. Also, a lodge has also been opened on site for guests to stay overnight which is a great opportunity.

Overall (8): This zoo was a fun time – you got to see plenty of animals with some absolutely gorgeous scenery. A visit in each season is definitely a must. If you are more apprehensive about the animals you can keep your windows closed, the animals can get pushy. If you’re wanting a more exotic zoo with lions and giraffes and all those major draws this isn’t the place for you. If you want to see some awesome Canadian species this is definitely the place to go. Also, if you’re driving between Ottawa and Montreal this is a great midway stop.

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One of the things I find many visitors love about going to the zoo is the experience of feeding the animals themselves. Not to downplay how awesome it is to experience but I feel in many cases this is not healthy for the animal or our relationship with them.

1. Overweight Animals
Animals at zoos which allow visitor feeding I have observed to be more overweight than those where diets are monitored. In terms of animal health this can cause many issues – much like obesity in humans. In zoos with strict no feeding policies animal diets are monitored and keepers are better able to adjust the diet if need be to suit specific animal needs.

2. Aggression
Competition for food is a normal part of animal life. In many cases the more dominant or aggressive individuals are more successful. I find many animals within petting zoo style enclosures which are fed by the public are conditioned to be more aggressive than they usually would. In the wild or in keeper fed enclosures there are usually multiple sources of food – grass fields, larger feeding vestibules, or separate feeding stations for individuals. In public feeding scenarios either the food pellets are the only option or the more enticing one – meaning the animals have to compete for the attention of the visitor. This can be detrimental for the whole visitor experience especially for young children who may not be used to pushy animals.

3. Enrichment
A huge element in the modern zoo is the role enrichment plays in the lives of the animals. One of the easiest ways to provide enrichment and diversity into day-to-day life for the animals is through food. By hiding food in the exhibit it encourages foraging or hunting behaviours and mental stimulation. In many species diversity in their food can be used as cues for seasonal changes, to allow for variation between individuals (one may need more fat, another may be low in certain vitamins or minerals), or research into better zoo nutrition overall. Treats can be used as rewards in the training process and/or to help in the administration of medication. The more public feeding becomes dominant in a zoo, the more stagnant their diet becomes and these other diet aspects are put to the side.

4. Encourages Feeding at Other Zoos/Exhibits
Contrary to many guests beliefs that if one zoo has certain rules it applies to all – not all zoos allow feeding. Along those same lines, some species are more easily adapted to public feeding scenarios than others. For this reason, pay careful attention to signs posted and unless it explicitly says that feeding is allowed…don’t. Just because an animal is in a zoo doesn’t mean it is domesticated or unable to harm you.

5. Bribe
Most zoos have a variation of an indoor enclosure for their animals to spend the night. Normally their indoor environments are better controlled than their exhibits and are more secure. The easiest way to encourage an animal to go inside at night or outside in the morning is through their stomach. If visitors are filling them up all day it can be harder for keepers to get them inside at the end of the day. This may not seem like a big deal to the visitors who don’t have this frustrating task – but if you think of it in terms of the safety of the animal this should be of more of a concern.

6. Social Status
Many zoo animals live in social groups with members having different social rankings. One of the most common perks of being near the top of the standings is having first pick of the food. When a guest disturbs this practice by feeding one of the lower ranking individuals they could be causing social unrest within the whole group. A prime example of this is the death of a young orangutan at the Toronto Zoo in 1998 when guests threw food into the exibit.

Plaque at the Indomalayan Pavilion at the Toronto Zoo

7. Encourages Feeding of Wild Animals
Obviously there are differences between putting out a bird feeder and trying to give a slab of raw meat to a bear – but feeding in zoos can encourage disruptive behaviour. Hand feeding wild animals can make them imprinted on humans or unable to forage properly. Not having that fear of humans leads them to become comfortable in urban areas or being near humans – this can lead to them being labeled nuisances and sometimes killed. It can also be a danger to those doing the feeding as protective mothers may attack those trying to feed the more inquisitive young. It’s best to keep the wild animals wild and admire from a distance.

8. Toxicity
Those of you with pets probably know that certain foods can be toxic to different animals, such as chocolate or grapes for dogs. This is the same for many zoo animals. What you may think would be part of their natural diet could be potentially fatal – for example avocado skin and pits can be toxic to many species including goats and rabbits, and the flesh can be harmful to a number of bird species. Many plants can have toxins in their bark, wax covered leaves, or flowers. For this reason, feeding your picnic lunch or nearby vegetation to zoo or wild animals could be causing them harm.

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Cards given out to guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

9. Diseases
While zoos regularly check their animals for diseases and keep as sanitary an exhibit as possible, it doesn’t mean guests still can’t get sick if they come in contact. Many animals touch or eat their own feces or that of other animals, which can make humans sick. Many wild animals may have ticks, fleas, or other problem insects that can be transferred to humans. The list is endless which is why it is safer to view from a distance – zoos add barriers for a reason.

I don’t mean to completely deter guests from doing behind the scenes feedings or going into the petting areas – I just want you to make some smart choices at zoos. If the animals appear overweight don’t buy the food when you go into the petting area; if the food being fed to the animals during guest feedings don’t seem like a natural option for them don’t take part; if you see other guests feeding the animals approach them and explain why it is harmful. Most of all respect the zoos wishes and remember it is for the animals safety as well as your own!

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