Summer of Awesome - Papanack Park Zoo

by Lynn Did everyone take July 2 as a holiday this year? We did, and we spent it at the Papanack Park Zoo.

The Papanack Zoo is small for a zoo, but provides plenty to take in on a day out with your kids. They're a family-run business who specializes in small primates and large cats, and they have several successful breeding programs that help preserve endangered species and supply other zoos around the world. It's a great place to get up close and personal with many really cool animals, and to learn a lot about animal care and preservation.

We arrived just after it opened at 10 a.m. and grabbed a feeding schedule and map right away. Following the feeding schedule is a great way to really see the animals -- several minutes before feeding time, they'll be pacing up and down right at the front of their cage; when the food arrives, you'll be able to see the animals jumping and leaping for food, while the zookeeper gives a little talk about the animal and answers questions.

For example, here we are in front of an 800 pound white tiger as he grabs his dinner from the fence:

White Tiger

Yeah, that's what we call up close and personal.

There are feedings between 10 and 11:30 or so, and then a break for lunch. It's a good time for you to break out a picnic - the zoo is very supportive of bringing in your own food, and you're allowed to come in and out as much as you want (make sure your hand stamp hasn't been washed off from hand sanitizer or sunscreen). We brought a whole cooler full of food - you'll need it - and kept it in the car until lunchtime. The animal cages are in a very open-sun area, so midday is the time to try to find a shady picnic table, eat, and rest for a while.

An important note about water - the zoo is on a well water system so there aren't any drinking fountains around. You can buy bottled water (as well as food, life-saving slushies, and other snacks), but it's well worth it to just bring a whole slew of refillable bottles from home. Also note that the well water system means port-a-potties, but seriously, they were the cleanest, nicest smelling port-a-potties I've ever been in, so that's good. There's a separate baby change station for the wee ones.

The lunch break in the feeding schedule is also a good time to check out the small feeding/petting zoo area. The zebras, elands, horses, and exotic breeds of sheep and goats are always active and looking for a snack. The little animals really love popcorn; the bigger ones like carrots. Both can be purchased at the zoo.

Feeding the animals

After lunch we decided to head for the nature trail area, where the snow leopards are -- the zoo's specialty. This area of the zoo is a little more woodsy and shaded, and makes for a nice trip when the sun is high. Also, they were not doing feedings in this area right after lunch, and our kids liked that idea. Although the feeding times really are the best times to see the animals, they also draw a big and sometimes-shoving crowd. Our kids liked the quiet walk and although a couple of the animals were snoozing, we got to see most of them, like this awesome Siberian Tiger:

Siberian Tiger

And these cool Arctic Foxes:

Arctic Foxes

We caught up with the feeding schedule in time to see the really big cats like the lions and panthers, and we also saw unscheduled feedings of the baboons, some lemurs, and best of all, the wee monkeys. There are both squirrel monkeys and capuchins at the zoo and both kinds are smart, funny, and SO adorable:

Squirrel Monkey Capuchin

One of the female capuchins had a baby this spring, and the baby capuchin is pretty much the cutest thing you'll ever see. One of the other female capuchins is pregnant, so if you go soon, you might have the chance to see a wee capuchin newborn - if you can stand the cuteness.

By 3 p.m. we were ready to head home. Sadly, they didn't let us take home the baby capuchin. RATS.

Some final tips: it's a very sunny place, so do yourself a favour and don't go on the hottest day of the year. Try to pick a day that's a little bit cloudy, and no warmer than 24 degrees or so. Wear hats for sure, and plenty of sunscreen, and as I noted above, bring a lot of water and don't leave it in the cooler.

The directions are quite straightforward - follow the 417, take the left side at the split, keep going, and going, and going - past Orleans, past Rockland. It takes about an hour to drive from Kanata. At the very last second, turn right onto Country Road 19. We expected after all that driving to see a giant sign at the turn, but it's completely unmarked. So be sure to have your Google Maps directions handy, and when you see Country Road 19 - even though it's completely nondescript - TURN.

Lastly, be prepared for the price. It was about $65 for our family of five to get in, and that's with two kids in the cheapest two-to-five age range. It seems like a lot, but since we brought all our own food, the only other expenses we had for the day were a couple bags of carrots and a slushie. When you hear about the things the zoo is doing to preserve some of these exotic species, and see the efforts they go to give the animals a natural habitat, it seems worth it. I really enjoy this little zoo, and we plan to make it an annual event.

So yes, the entrance fee is a bit high...but it's such a family friendly place, and so interesting and heart-warming, that I have to give it a Summer Of Awesome Must Do.

Lynn is mom to three tombliboos and blogs over at Turtlehead.