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Exploring the world outside of the park

San Diego Zoo

New Monkey Trails beckons (re)visit to the famous zoo

Wednesday, September 7, 2005
by Lisa Perkis, staff writer

Most out-of-state visitors to Disneyland branch out to other Southern California attractions during their stay, and the San Diego Zoo is one of the more popular side trips. Recently the San Diego Zoo unveiled Monkey Trails and Forest Tails, a project that revitalizes the Heart of the Zoo and replaces outdated concrete exhibits built back in the 1920s. If you haven't visited the Zoo lately, now would be a perfect time, especially with school back in session and crowds down in the Fall. Let's take a stroll through Monkey Trails and Forest Tales to see what's new at the Zoo. We'll also take a peek in the Children's Zoo to visit some special new infants.

The multi-level walkways wind around 3.4 acres of enclosures and gardens. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The upper level of Monkey Trails is located directly across from the Zoo entrance.

Monkey Tales and Forest Tales is a multi-level exhibit that opened this summer at the San Diego Zoo, with a grant from the Joan Kroc Foundation. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Monkey Trails replaces the old Monkey Yard, which was built in 1922. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Overhead iron monkey sign dots the new Monkey Trail. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The first exhibit you see on the upper level of Monkey Trails does not contain any monkeys at all. The flamingo exhibit underwent a major overhaul and is now part of Monkey Trails. The designers added more natural foliage to give the birds privacy for breeding and hatching eggs.

The traditional flamingo exhibit has been expanded, and its inhabitants are flourishing. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The San Diego Zoo does an excellent job of providing information about their animals to visitors of all ages. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The first monkey enclosure contains busy Guenon monkeys. They are the most playful and graceful of all the species of monkey and it's wonderful to see them in an enclosure more suited to their needs. The Guenon enclosure, like most of the new monkey exhibits, is large and multilevel with many climbing structures. You can find great views of playtime from both levels.

Photographing the Guenon monkeys can be challenged because they never quite sit still. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The Mangabey monkeys also have a spacious enclosure. They are some of the most rare and endangered monkeys on earth. They will be in the trees as well as on the floor of the exhibit and can be seen easily from both levels.

A stern-faced Mangabey contemplates his breakfast. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Some of the theming behind Monkey Trails includes “researchers” who are observing animals in a tropical forest and have their “notes” stolen by curious monkeys. These informative journal pages are blown all around the exhibit for visitors to find and read. The “pages” are actually thin metal sheets inscribed with pictures and details about the animals, foliage, and terrain of Africa and Asia. If you have the time to read them, they are very well-written and informative.

One of the “journal pages” blown against the railing. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Monkey Trails has other animals exhibits besides its namesake. Wild pigs, leopards, birds and reptiles have new homes under the trees. Especially notable are the pygmy hippos, for years relegated to a bare concrete slab and pool in a part of the Zoo rarely frequented. They now have a beautiful new enclosure modeled after the hippo pool below Tiger River.

The pygmy hippos look as thrilled as hippos can be with their new digs. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

A Scarlet macaw takes a nap during the warm afternoon. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The San Diego Zoo is famous for its foliage and houses several world-class botanical gardens. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The lower level of Monkey Trails incorporates the Orangutan exhibit, called Absolutely Apes. This is a fairly new exhibit that has been open since 2003, but with the Monkey Trails now open the exhibit is now tied into the rest of the primate enclosures and draws more foot traffic.

Clyde is known as the Gentle Giant, weighing in at 284 pounds with an arm reach of eight feet. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Cinta is just over one year old and draws quite a crowd with his gymnastics. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The entrance to Tiger River is now accessible only through Monkey Trails on the lower level. The new entrance begins at the alligator aquarium and continues down the hill to the Tiger enclosure.

The adult male Indochinese Tiger is time-sharing the enclosure with a mother Tiger and her two cubs born earlier this summer. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Other areas of the Zoo have very special new residents. The Children's Zoo, located in the south corner of the Zoo, is a must-visit, especially their nursery.

The nursery is located towards the exit of the Children's Zoo.

Four female cheetah cubs were born August 9 at Wild Animal Park—sister facility to the San Diego Zoo—and the mother was unable to care for them. They were brought to the Children's Zoo Nursery where keepers care for them around the clock and lucky visitors are able to observe them most of the day.

The keeper has color coded the bottles to keep track of the cub's intake of formula. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Each cub has a different color marked on the top of their heads so the keepers can tell them apart. According to the Zoo's information plaques, the cheetahs will be weaned and kept at the Wild Animal Park to become part of the breeding program for these endangered animals.

The baby cheetahs have been looking at the world for about one week at the time of this photo. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The San Diego Zoo is looking better than ever. If you have an extra day while visiting Disneyland, it's certainly worth the drive down the coast to see the new faces as well as the old favorites.

The obligatory Disney connection: Lion King animators took field trips to the San Diego Zoo to sketch meerkats. Timon would be proud. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lisa here.


  • The San Diego Zoo is located at 2920 Zoo Drive in Balboa Park, just north of downtown San Diego.
  • Fall Hours (September 6 thru October 2): 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • (grounds close at 6 p.m.)
  • Winter Hours (October 3 thru April 7): 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (grounds close at 5 p.m.).
  • One Day basic admission: $21 for adults $14 for children (ages 3-11).


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