Connecting with Animals at the Toronto Zoo

“What's that great connection quote?”, Steve asked as we wandered past the female orang-utan on our most recent visit to the Toronto Zoo. 

“In order to protect something, you must love it. But in order to love something, you must first have a connection with it,” I respond. It really is my favourite quote, and one I fully stand behind.

Toddler looking at panda at the Toronto Zoo

As we passed the ring-tailed lemurs, we started talking about our favourite non-North American animals. “Its a tough one," I said, "But the ring-tailed lemur and red panda are up there for me,” I've always been a fan of the smaller, lesser understood things in life. Plus they’re just so darn cute. “Really?” he asks, surprised at my selection. “Mine would be the lions. Or the giraffes. Definitely elephants." 

He elaborates on his last answer by telling me a story from when he was younger, when elephants still called the Toronto Zoo home and he got to go behind the scenes with to help feed them.

He pauses, as if he took a trip back in time in his mind, remembering the moment and how much fun he had. Remembering the connection he built with the elephants that day.

I interrupted the memory by saying, “See, there’s your connection. That's why you love them, and that's why you care about them."

And that my friends, is why it is one of my all-time favourite quotes.

Coral reef tank at the Toronto Zoo

As animals lovers, building a connection with Morley is extremely important to us. We know she loves dogs, she has her grandparents’ pups “Tity” and “Lolalita” to thank for that. But we want her to appreciate all animals, from big to small and cute to, well, not so cute.

There are many ways to connect kids with animals, which I share in this post here. In Toronto alone, our opportunities are nearly endless - you can visit a conservation area to see native animals in action, the Royal Ontario Museum to see animals from the past, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada if fish are your thing or you can take a trip to the Toronto Zoo if mammals, birds and reptiles are more your style. 

The Toronto Zoo is the perfect place to build that animal connection, and where we spent the recent Family Day.

Lion at the Toronto Zoo

Set in the beautiful Rouge Valley in the east end of the city, the Toronto Zoo first opened its doors in August 1974. The Zoo is made up of 710 acres of land, which is divided into seven zoogeographic regions - Indo-Malaya, Africa, Americas (North & South America), Eurasia Wilds, the Tundra Trek, Australasia and Canadian Domain - and home to over 5,000 animals representing 450 species. Since opening its gates, it has been a leader in saving and protecting species and their habitats, both locally and globally. 

Exactly as we predicted, this trip to the Zoo was much different than our first visit at six months and even our second at 13 months old. At just shy of two years, Morley is now at the age that she notices even the smallest things in front of her and can tell us exactly what animal she's seeing and even what she wants to see next.

Giraffe at the Toronto Zoo

While some of the animals were tucked indoors for the winter, we still had the chance to see the pandas, polar bears, wolves, tigers, lions, cheetahs and more. While we knew we were taking our chances on the weather before we walked through the front gates, it only started raining about half way through our journey. Luckily, we could escape the drizzle by popping in to one of the many animal pavilions to warm up. Indoors, we saw the giraffes, rhino, gorillas, orang-utans and more, which was more like a quick trip to the tropics. 

Naturally, my favourite part of the Zoo is Tundra Trek, home to the wolves, reindeer, snowy owl and polar bears. We stopped by the polar bears just as a Keeper Talk was getting started, so we found a spot amongst the crowd where Morley could watch them stand up on there hind legs, say "oh, big guy" and see them eat the fishy snack they were being tossed. Later she told me she also likes to eat fish like the polar bear, as she shoved a handful of goldfish crackers into her mouth. (I don’t want to be a polar bear pusher, but I think that may be her connection right there.)

Polar bears at the Toronto Zoo
Wolf at the Toronto Zoo

Seeing as it was a long weekend, we also got to take a tour of the new, state-of-the-art Wildlife Animal Health Centre. The volunteer-led tours (12:30pm on Saturday and Sundays, leaving from the Tundra Trek Zoomobile Station) allow you to catch a glimpse into the work the Zoo does behind-the-scenes, having access to a viewing gallery featuring the diagnostic imaging, treatment and surgery room and the clinical and endocrinology labs.

Morley loved taking advantage of the activities for kids, including testing her surgery skills in an Operation-style game.

Toronto Zoo Wildlife Health Centre
Inside the Toronto Zoo Wildlife Health Centre
Toronto Zoo Wildlife Health Centre children activities

If you ask Morley what she saw at the Toronto Zoo, she will tell you "pole-ah bear, tigers (with a scrunchy face grrrrr), snakes, dragons, a yellow duck and people". I think I may have missed the yellow duck along our travels, but its obvious to tell which animals are quickly becoming her favourites. (She's clearly also a people person.)

Despite the bit of rain, it was the perfect winter day at the Toronto Zoo, and we can't wait to go back!

Oh, and in case you're wondering - our favourite North American animals? For me, it’s the polar bear and for him, it’s the grey wolf. Seeing polar bears in the wild and hanging out with wolf cub pups are the connections to thank for those loves.

What is your favourite animal story? Have you visited a zoo lately? I’d love to hear!

Where to Find the Toronto Zoo:
361A Old Finch Avenue 
Toronto, ON M1B 5K7
Phone: 416-392-5929

Hours: Open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day), but hours vary depending on the season. Give yourself at minimum 2-3 hours to visit. Last admission is one hour before close. 

Admission: Cost of admission varies by season and age.

Social: @thetorontozoo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Getting There:
The Toronto Zoo is located in the Rouge Valley on Meadowvale Road in Toronto north of Highway 401 and can be accessed by both car and public transit.  The TTC has bus routes that stop at the Zoo’s main gates.

The cost for onsite parking is $12.00 per car. Be sure to purchase a parking pass with your admission.