‘Talk to the Animals’ – Meeting new animals at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
An arctic fox checks out the visitors to his habitat at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

The red wolf is a perfect example why we need to protect wild animals. Less than 30 years ago, only 14 red wolves existed in the world. The wolves were captured and brought to the Tacoma zoo, thanks to a program supported through American zoos and aquariums.

The Species Survival Plan helped Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium increase the red wolf population to 250 wolves. About 40 centers currently work on red wolf conservation. Some red wolves were reintroduced into the wild in 1987. About 50 remain the wild today.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
The red wolf nearly became extinct during the 1970s. The Tacoma zoo led the way to rebuild its population.

My daughter Mallory and I were impressed with the zoo’s red wolves. It helps you to appreciate the animals even more when you realized how close we as a society were to losing these creatures. It’s sad enough that species disappear daily from the world. But, when humans can help save them, we appreciate the work scientists and others do in the arena.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is home to a few animals we haven’t seen before. The arctic tundra exhibit features animals found near Point Hope, Alaska. We saw a muskox, in an area near a reindeer. The muskox was new to us.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
A muskox and reindeer live near each other in Point Defiance’s Arctic Tundra exhibit.

In addition, we saw our first arctic foxes. The zoo is home to two foxes. They’re about the size of a small dog. They looked so cute that you wanted to reach out and pet them. That wouldn’t have been a smart move. Though, as a zookeeper was working in the enclosure, one climbed out of a cave and checked out its guest. They were about 7 years old, the zookeeper told us.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Is he shy or deciding if we’re prey?

Staying in the tundra area, we took in views of a couple of polar bears. The enclosure is impressive; the bears have a decent-sized swimming pool and an area to roam, with boulders to climb on or hide behind.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
A polar bear roams behind rocks as it maneuvers toward a swimming pool.

Penguins are a family favorite. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium seemed to cater to us in that area. We enjoyed watching the penguins hang out near the water and move about on land that resembles the Washington coastline.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Penguins in the Rocky Shore exhibit.

Mallory and I were in awe of a walrus swimming about in a pool. Dozer is a 17-year-old male visiting the zoo for reproduction plans. As he swam, he gave out a bark that sounded like a train whistle. We weren’t sure it was him, so we stayed for a while until he made the noise a couple more times. Another first for us.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
A male walrus is visiting the zoo as part of reproduction plans.

We took in views of tigers and elephants at the Asian Forest Sanctuary. The tiger complex was spacious, allowing the tigers plenty of room to roam and play. I like when zoos ensure animals have space to move about. However, during our visit, a tiger was in the mood for a rest.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Tiger relaxes in the Asian Forest Sanctuary.

The forest section has several other animals in it (though some were off display during our visit), including the Asian small clawed otter, porcupine, white-cheeked gibbon and a Malayan tapir.

While we enjoyed the zoo portion of Defiance Point, the aquarium presented us with a look at some creatures that can be found in Puget Sound, near Seattle. Did you know that sharks swim about in the Sound? I did a double take when I saw one, then two, swimming alongside the other fish on display.

There are 11 species of sharks among the animals living underwater in the area. The Basking Shark is likely the largest, growing to about 32 feet long, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Washington’s sharks are considered docile and live deep underwater, so it’s not common to see them.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Sharks are among the animals in Puget Sound.

The North Point Aquarium’s main tank was impressive. The 31,500-square foot facility houses several fish – including salmon and ratfish – as well as jellyfish and anemone. A boat is positioned at the bottom of the tank. The pool can be viewed from two floors.

Point Defiance leaders are in the middle of a construction project that will increase the aquarium size and replace the North Pacific facility. It will eventually become an indoor rain forest. The new aquarium attraction should open in 2018.

As with most zoos, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium has an area that allows visitors close access to some of the animals. People can buy pellets and feed goats. The goats are eager for some snacks and attention.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
A goat pushes its way ahead of others to grab some pellets from Mallory’s hand.

Leaving the zoo, we overheard some people talking about a gorilla statue. He apparently meant something to locals. I did some research and it turns out that Ivan was a beloved resident of Tacoma. He started his life as a family pet. But, as he physically outgrew living with the family, he was sold to a Tacoma shopping center, where he lived for 27 years.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Statue of beloved Ivan the Gorilla greets visitors near the zoo’s entrance.

However, an issue was raised about keeping him in an enclosed area at a shopping center. He was eventually relocated to the Atlanta zoo, where he lived the rest of his life. About a month before we visited Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, the statue was dedicated. It contains some of Ivan’s ashes, so the gorilla continues to live near the zoo’s entrance.

As we visit zoos in other cities, it’s amazing what we learn. Omaha may have one of the largest and most popular zoos in the world, we always find something to enjoy at other zoos. Tacoma introduced us to the red wolf, muskox, arctic fox and Northwest Pacific sharks, in addition to the love a community had for a pet gorilla.

We recommend visiting Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma. The views are beautiful and the animals are interesting to view.

For more information on the zoo, please visit www.pdza.org.