Animals Animals!

Back in April, a friend introduced us to an amazing zoo: Pairi Daiza. When we visited the first time, we traded in our day passes for season tickets. Now we’ve been to the zoo 3 times. The second time, we went by ourselves on a Sunday afternoon.

There are a lot of things I love about the zoo. The spaces for the animals all feel large. There’s plenty of room for the animals to move around. Most of them also feel accessible, though, such as walking through the Australian area with nothing between you and the animals. Another way they break up the spaces is with architecture. Each area has buildings around and through it to help it resemble the specific part of the world where the animals originate.

There are Bengal tigers and Indian elephants over there! Similar buildings can be found in some areas of India.

The architecture definitely adds to the experience, but the animals are the star of the show. Unless you ask my kids. They might say the epic playground is actually the star! There are enormous bird nests above the playground, though, and the storks love them, so it still feels like a part of the zoo.

This was a particularly exciting spotting for us as the kids and I had recently finished reading Sticks Across the Chimney. Having a stork build its nest above your chimney is considered good luck in some places in Scandinavia. People have been known to place old wagon wheels and all sorts of things to encourage the birds to build.

One of the animals first animals we visited was the otters. They’re so lively! There are 3 in the enclosure at Pairi Daiza and they would run across the ground, dive in the water, swim across, and climb out to do it again. They looked like they were having a wonderful time. Their space has a glass front to it, so even as they swam under water, we were still able to see them when they approached the glass. After observing them from beside the enclosure, we climbed up for a different perspective.

This fellow climbed out of the water, raised up on his back legs, and chattered away at us before diving back into the water for another swim.
The building to the left is where we stood to talk with Mr. Otter.

The treehouse above was intriguing, but off limits. We were wondering whether we could get in and instead worked our way over to the bird enclosures.

We walked in through a gate and were inside the enclosure with the birds. It’s enormous! At ground level, we saw these flamingos. There were also roseate spoonbills not far away.

There was a vast array of different types of birds. It was breathtaking! But one of the coolest features is the rope bridge. You can see it ascending in the background of the photo above.

Up we go!

The rope bridge goes up inside the netting for the bird enclosure. You get an incredible view below of the birds. It’s a little wobbly, too, which adds to the adventure. The foot bridge is one direction, so once you start up, you’re committed to finishing. There’s a gate at the top as you exit the bird enclosure. Then you wander down from there and end up on the opposite side of the park’s creek.

Walking on this bridge was my favorite part of the day. It was so neat!

Upon our descent, we decided to head for the Asian animals. Again, the architecture helps you to shift your mindset about where these animals are native.

It’s a tea room!

The red panda is native to the Himalayas and southwestern China. It’s also downright adorable. There are only about 10,000 in the wild, so they are on the endangered species list.

They were much smaller than I expected, but so fluffy!

These pandas are only distantly related to the giant pandas with which we’re all familiar. Their faces remind me more of a raccoon than a giant panda, though. They’re fantastic climbers and are known to descend trees head first!

This red panda is in a separate enclosure from the first.

The long covered walkways meander through this area of the zoo. It’s a great way to allow a lot of people to see the animals at the same time, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. At least as a person walking… I have no idea how the red panda feels about it.

We walked deeper into the China area to see the giant pandas.

This giant panda was reclining and snacking the whole time we walked around outside his cave.

Giant pandas are considered vulnerable, but not endangered. Pandas, both the red and giant varieties, have a “false thumb,” which is actually part of its wrist. This allows the panda to more easily grasp and shred bamboo stalks.

This hall is filled with Buddhas and other statues

As you walk through the space above, many of the Buddhas have a swastika on them. Needless to say, that can be a bit jarring if you’re used to having a certain association with the symbol. Thus, there are signs to explain this. I am going to quote their signs so I don’t accidentally communicate the wrong thing:

Swastika is a word from Sanskrit and means “what brings happiness.” This decorative or symbolic sign is one of the oldest in humanity. The symbol originated more than 10,000 years ago and spread throughout the world, through different cultures; especially in India and the Far East, where this sign is very often used in the iconography of local religions.
In India this sign stands for the rotation of the universe. In China and Tibet it evokes eternity. Buddha sometimes wears it on the chest or forehead.
In Japanese Zen Buddhism, the symbol stands for the “seal of the mind of Buddha.” It is therefore always a favorable sign.
The swastika from Hinduism or Buddhism should certainly not be confused with the swastika of the Nazis.
There are in fact two variants of this sign in different eras and cultures.
The left-turning variant: the most used in the Far East.
The right-turning version: widely used in India. It is this latter variant, turned at an angle of 45 degrees, that was chosen as a sign of the Nazi regime. The symbol was consequently an unfavorable sign!

– Pairi Daiza

On our next visit to Pairi Daiza, we met our friends again. We were all very excited because a new section had just opened and it was the first weekend to see it. Laine’s been eagerly awaiting this particular opening for weeks! It is intended to feature some of her favorite animals, wolves. The section is for animals from North America! They’ve called it The Final Frontier. They have some “seaside” houses which I mentally picture in San Francisco. They also used signs from the U.S.’s National Park Service, which is delightful. We love the national parks!

I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to see this!

It was a fantastic area to walk around. They did a terrific job making it feel like the northwest areas of the U.S. and southern Canada. There are trees native to that area and the habitats feel, somehow, more like the American/Canadian border and Pacific Northwest. I was concerned that it would feel campy, but they really got it right.

This black bear looked like it was going to walk right up to us (there’s a ravine and a fence between us) before turning and ambling along the other side of the ravine.

In another space, brown and black bears share an enclosure. It’s a large area with running water and room to sprawl. I think they need more trees, but the area is new and trees take some time to grow. They also need the bears to leave them alone and you could see where a few of the “unwrapped” trees had already been used for claw-sharpening in the other section. Those trees aren’t going to survive.

Bear sighting!

We saw a Smokey the Bear sign, as well, which reminded me of 1980’s commercials. I’ll bet many of you remember them, too! It was kind of funny because one of our friends is an Italian who lives in France and I did a terrible job trying to sound like Smokey the Bear.

“Remember kids, only YOU can prevent forest fires!” I think those ads must have aired during Saturday morning cartoons.

We found some of the wolves! Laine was very excited to see them. There was a new wolf baby for one “family,” and they weren’t ready for visitors yet. The rest of the wolves were resting in the shade on a hot day.

There is a wolf in the shadow cast by these logs. The rest were way back in the back of the space, also in the shade. They share this enclosure with a few of the bears, and there was room in the space for them to spread out and enjoy a lazy morning.

There’s a brand new hotel that’s opened right here. We were actually standing on its roof as I took the photo above. The rooms have windows that look out onto the wolf/bear enclosure – right at ground level. That seemed like an incredibly neat idea before we learned that the rooms cost 1,000 Euros/night!

The sea lions were one of the most exciting exhibits on this trip. They were my favorite because they seemed to be playing for all of us to see. They would swim right up to the edge of the glass, turn, and swim away upside down before flipping over to gracefully swim back toward us. Over and over again – so peaceful! I would have missed this entirely if Isaac hadn’t shown me where we could walk under the deck to see the water. The hippo enclosure and the otter enclosure have this same feature and it’s wonderful!

My boy and 2 sea lions

This was the last sign we saw before exiting the North American area. It was really cool because we remember reading these same warnings in Big Bend National Park in Texas a couple of years ago!

This was a fun flashback for us – mostly because we didn’t have to USE this knowledge.

The kids were excited to see a real reindeer. This guy was hanging out in the shade to try to stay cool. The mother and young reindeer were around the corner having a drink of water.

Hiding from the sunshine

The reindeer were still working on losing their winter coats and this guy had grown some enormous antlers! Both males and females grow antlers, but the female in this area did not have any. Hers begin to grow later than his. These antlers are still covered in their velvety outer layer. As the year wears on, the antlers will shed this layer and harden. I am very curious about how much these things weigh!

At the end of a fun day, the girls were our tour guides and helped us map our way to the exit.

Follow the leaders!

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