Story by Sandra Williams-Hervé
TORONTO, ONTARIO — “Gentle, gentle,” I called out in an effort to prevent further damage.
My cat, Cheeba, is incredibly patient. Blow by blow she never fights back when my one-year-old, Amélie, tries to pet … err … pummel her. If she did I’d understand. It’s self-defense, right?
“Maybe it’s time that we let her see other animals?” my husband suggested.
“Like a zoo?” I replied.
Babies love animals, and it was time that our little critter had some face time with an undomesticated animal or two.
Destination: The Toronto Zoo.
Located near the border of the Rouge River, Canada’s largest zoo is massive. Seriously, massive. The Toronto Zoo sits on 710 acres of land on the eastern edge of the city — about 35 kilometres from the downtown landmark, the CN Tower — and is divided into seven geographical regions: Africa, Americas, Australia, Canadian Domain, Eurasia, Indo-Malaya and the Tundra Trek. One visit alone made me feel like I’d been around the world in a matter of a few hours.
As soon as we arrived, the first thing I noticed was the amount of babies and toddlers milling about. It was like we stepped into the valley of strollers.
Timing Is Everything at the Toronto Zoo
If you visit during the early months of the year you won’t have to endure lineups, which is awesome. However, if you visit during the summer — which is a great time to be at the zoo because all of the animals are out — come during the week and at off-peak hours. Fewer people and less lineups will make your zoo experience more enjoyable.
First Stop: Giant Panda Experience
I’ve always wanted to see a panda bear, so when I was able to glimpse one from a reasonable distance, I was thrilled. As an adult, I can appreciate the rare opportunity to get close to this endangered species. Unfortunately, that is where the problem lies for babies and toddlers. As Er Shun, one of the zoo’s two resident giant pandas, sat tucked away in a corner it made it difficult for her to be spotted by a young pair of eyes.
A Meeting with Humphrey the Baby Polar Bear
In an ideal world, very young children would be able to see animals up close and even interact with them. We got this chance when we went to see Humphrey, the Toronto Zoo’s baby polar bear. Born in November 2013, Humphrey instantly became the zoo’s rising star.
It wasn’t difficult to track him down. Even during the zoo’s off-peak hours, a small crowd was clamouring to catch a glimpse of the adorable polar bear cub. I skipped down a few steps and searched for an opening in the crowd, and as soon as I found one I darted toward the window.
Humphrey teased the crowd by pacing back and forth between his enclosed nap area and his larger outdoor habitat. With each movement the frenzy of the crowd grew larger and louder, and I could sense the gaps in the observation area closing in. I didn’t want my husband, and especially not Amélie to miss the most talked-about zoo baby in Canada.
I craned my neck toward the back of the room and made a hand gesture summoning my husband to temporarily abandon the stroller to bring our daughter and make his way down the steps to join me. As we focused our eyes on the cute and cuddly vision, Amélie was all smiles and infectious giggles.
MORE ABOUT THE TORONTO ZOO
Location: 2000 Meadowvale Road, Toronto, ON (see map below)
Admission: Adults pay $28 during peak season (May 1-October 31) and $23 during off-peak season (November 1-April 30). Kids 3-12 pay $18 (peak) or $14 (off-season). Admission is free for children two years old and younger. Full admission info is available on the zoo’s website.
More Info: The Toronto Zoo turns 40 years old on August 15, 2014. Throughout the years the zoo has seen its share of births. Just like their human counterparts, the zoo animals have been experiencing a mini-baby boom since 2009. Spring is the busiest time of year for babies to be born; albeit, certain species like gorillas may give birth during the winter. In all, the Toronto Zoo is home to more than 500 species and greater than 6,000 specimens.
Hours: Open 364 days a year; closed Christmas Day.