By Matt Fouts
The Pittsburgh Zoo was one of the latest larger metropolitan zoos to join the same accrediting body as Tanganyika, the Zoological Association of America (ZAA). It virtually went unnoticed in the “real” world, but their decision to leave AZA partially due to the new elephant standards was a big deal within the zoo industry.
Needless to say, I was excited to see one of our newest members. The front entrance is nice and their admission price is similar to Tanganyika’s. Once you are through the entrance, you have to take an escalator up to the level of the zoo.
Now, I must apologize for the remainder of my zoo because my visit was heavily tainted by Pokemon’ Go. The craze didn’t really start to take hold until we left for vacation, so we were pretty oblivious to it until we saw some posts on Facebook and heard a news story on the radio.
By the time we had downloaded the app (I have three kids, what did you expect?) we were nearly to Canada. Side note: Pokemon are scarce in the western region of Nova Scotia if anyone was thinking of hunting for them there. Also, I thought we might be able to see some in the ocean, but turns out you can’t find any without a cell signal.
So Pittsburgh Zoo was our first zoo with Pokemon Go and it was CRAZY. The moment we summited the escalator you could see small groups of people huddled together with their phones out. I also noticed that many of the people in attendance were not the stereotypical zoo-goers.
We arrived around 2 pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch, so we did that first. The zoo has multiple restaurants and many of them seemed to be newer (and nicer) than the eatery we chose at the front. However, the food was good and, once again, priced similar to Tanganyika. The highlight of lunch was the chance to catch a wild Dragonite that was unsuccessful (if I had only known about Razz Berries at the time). Although one group of teens were cheering when one of them caught him.
With lunch out of the way, we headed deeper into the zoo. First up was a snow leopard exhibit and a tiger exhibit. The tiger exhibit was pretty cool. It was designed to have give the illusion the cat is just roaming free much like our the giraffe exhibit at Tanganyika. The tiger is up high and you are walking up a hill as you approach it, so you don’t see the railing and giant moat that separates you from them. On the backside they have a glass window that allows you to see him up close every now and then.
We headed to the children’s area first. They had a sea lion exhibit with multiple vantage points that the kids enjoyed. As we left the sea lions, Luke discovered a resilient Clefairy Pokemon and captured it. Then the kids looked up from the phone and discovered a tiny flume ride and two animal ambassadors with a snake and another small critter.
Next to the flume ride was a large kids discovery center full of aquariums and terrariums. My favorite exhibit inside (and the kid’s) was a smaller meerkat exhibit that had a few tunnels and pop up areas for kids throughout it. I also applaud them for allowing Zubats to free fly in the throughout the building.
As you exit the second level of the Discovery Center they have a “Turtle Racer” area that we definitely need to incorporate at Tanganyika. My kids had a great time on the little racers. Then we unwittingly headed to the playground area and killed 20 minutes before pressing on.
The rest of the zoo was dominated by Pokestops and capturing Pokemon. They had a nice mixed species exhibit with ostrich, gazelles, Grant’s zebras, and Drowzees. The exhibit offered many different viewing areas and at some angles it looked like the giraffe were in the same exhibit. In the same general area was a nice elephant exhibit and some more structures for the kids to pose around.
They also had a jungle building with many different species of primates including some Park fans would recognize like gibbons, colobus, and lemurs. They also had orangutans and a large group of gorillas. It more like the Ape and Man exhibit at Sedgwick County Zoo with a bunch of landscaping than the jungle building at SCZ.
The next area we visited was call The Islands. It was a cool area with a Caribbean vibe. They had a siamang island with some waterfalls on the side. They also had a Aldabra tortoise, a pair of clouded leopards, and Anna’s favorite, a free range peacock.
They have a new jungle area that wasn’t completed quite yet, so we will have to check that out next time. We rounded the loop off with the PPG Aquarium. Unfortunately, the polar bears weren’t on exhibit. However, they did put a Clefairy in the exhibit that we were able to catch. In hind sight, they may have been planning to feed the Clefairy the polar bear.
Although they have many of the same animals as Tanganyika and there isn’t anything that really stood out about the exhibits, I will never forget my visit to this zoo. It was surreal seeing all the people around the zoo with their phones out and chargers in tow. Many of them were walking “with” us and wouldn’t even stop to look in the exhibits.
However, if you payed close enough attention, you would catch that rare and powerful moment someone would discover a REAL animal and it would command their full attention and admiration. That was my favorite part of visiting the zoo and I am glad to see more people visiting the zoo even if their intent was to catch augmented reality animals.