Camping at the Toronto Zoo

Lion at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

Waking up to lion roars and hyena chuffs – I’m guessing that’s who the sounds came from – is pretty amazing. Camping overnight at The Toronto Zoo is a supercool experience.

The Zoo just started offering camping this summer, since they currently can’t offer their regular overnight program in their tents with group activities, due to covid-19. I love the idea of camping at the Zoo, but I don’t have kids and I would never have done the regular program. I am glad they adapted and ended up creating a program that is much more accessible and appealing (to me).

Hyena at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

Called “Wild Tails,” the overnight experience includes:

  • Individual campsite reserved for the night
  • Self-guided exploration of the Zoo, including after-hours and pre-public morning access to the African Savanna and Canadian Domain regions
  • Burger or hotdog dinner with drink, chips, and small frozen dessert
  • Light breakfast snack and coffee or tea in the morning

Campers are provided with a handbook by email before arrival (it is also on the Zoo’s website) and are expected to bring their own tent and camping equipment. Only tents are permitted, no trailers or RVs, since the campsite is delineated spaces in a small field.

We found it a little confusing when we arrived, as there is no signage at the arrival location with instructions or to indicate where to meet the staff person. But a staff person soon arrives and they have a well-structured system for informing guests and leading everyone through the Zoo and to the campsite location.

It is a bit of a chore to haul everything from the vehicle to the designated site, and then park the vehicle in another field area nearby. But the campsite location is well-situated in the Zoo, with washrooms and covered picnic/seating area nearby. There were two staff people based in the covered seating area to support the campers for most of the evening, and snacks and beverages were served from that area in the morning.

Wild Tails campsite at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

After unloading our vehicle and setting up the tent, at around 5:30pm we went to walk around the Zoo and visit the animals. The Zoo was still open to the public at that time. We enjoyed the experience more after the Zoo was closed and there were only the other overnight campers – far fewer people on the paths.

Common Eland at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

My husband Jeff was particularly enthralled by the rhino and the hippos.

I love all creatures (as you know from reading other posts on this blog) but I was especially thrilled to meet baby longlegs, a.k.a. Amani, the beautiful baby giraffe who was born there this springtime. I had been watching livestreams and online videos of her on the Zoo’s great YouTube and Facebook channels, and she is (of course) even more gorgeous in person.

Amani (baby longlegs) at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Giraffes at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Bison at dusk. Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

It was also especially lovely to see and photograph the animals in the dusk and dawn light. The photos above were taken in the evening. Here are a few of the animals in the morning light:

Ostrich at Sunrise. Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Zebra in morning light at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Lions in the morning at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

The Wild Tails camping program is primarily set up for families with children, but it also fun for adults who are happy to camp in a makeshift campsite in the middle of the zoo. Members get a discounted rate but you don’t have to be a member to book the camping experience.

Of course masks were worn and protocols were followed. All of the staff we spoke with were knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly, and helped to make it a really enjoyable experience.

Details are here:

Day Trip to Haute Goat

Today we went on a day trip to Haute Goat, a lovely visitor-friendly farm just outside of Port Hope, Ontario. We needed a little holiday and to get out of town without a big commitment or discomfort – and this day trip was perfect!

Haute Goat is a farm that produces goat milk, goat cheese, etc., and it is a visitor experience. It is owned and run by a couple originally from Toronto. Debbie, who I spoke with on the phone as I was booking our “goat shmurgle” and our lunch with alpacas, worked in the film industry in Toronto for years before moving out of the city.

When we arrived, there was a welcome station set up where they asked us questions about health and travel, as part of their covid-19 protocols. Everyone wore masks. Past the ranch-style wooden gate, there is a building on the right side that is the café. We went in to choose what we were going to have for lunch and place the order for later. We then walked around the property a little bit, went to the barn and enclosed yard where there were goats of all sizes and colours. Baby goats, big goats, black, brown, and cream coloured goats.

When it came time for our “goat shmurgle,” we met outside of the café, and went with a small group of other guests back to the goat’s playground just outside the barn. When the large gate was opened, there was a stampede of goats! They sure knew where they were going! They trotted in a herd past the visitors, up the little hill, past the café, past the alpacas, directly into the meadow. Yummy yummy greens for goats in there. We just followed them.

In the meadow, we were able to pet the goats, and pick up the babies. After some grazing (for the goats) and playing with goats (for the humans), we moved on to another meadow. I was able to carry little Calamity (sister to little Rukus) – we carried the babies so everyone could keep up!

Feta the goat. Photo by Heather Kelly.

We all then walked with the goats to an enclosed area just outside of the playground, and were able to sit on benches with the goats and feed them cedar. Wow, they looooove the cedar!! It was hilarious and a little chaotic! The goats hopped up on the benches, and sometimes on the people. After all, Haute Goat also offers goat yoga, and these goats are trained to hop on people’s back if it is in a table-like position. So much fun!

When the goat experience came to an end and the goats were to be returned to their yard, we went up to have lunch with the alpacas. We checked in and waited at the café, and when our lunches were ready, we walked into the alpaca paddock and had lunch at the picnic table.

A couple of staff people brought alpaca treats, which brought the alpacas to the table- an in our face! We couldn’t eat our food right away with the alpacas clamouring for their pellet treats, but that was an amazing experience. Once we did get to our lunch, the food was simple but totally delicious.

I had never been that close to an alpaca or a goat before today. What a joy! It was only after we got home that we realized that we could have harvested a big basket of vegetables from the farm for $10 and brought them home with us. I’m sure they would have been delicious, but I don’t feel like we missed out on anything. I am excited to go back again in the springtime when there are new baby goats to cuddle!

Beautiful Baby Brownsnake

A perfect tiny little Northern Brownsnake just made my day. As soon as I saw her, I fell in love. She must be a few months old. Born this springtime. Gorgeous silvery-pewter colour. Perfect little head, smaller than half the size of my pinky fingernail. Alert and unbelievably cute.

I’m not sure why she was brought in to TWC. Senior staff member D said that she didn’t find anything wrong with her. But now that it’s November and she is not in hibernation, she might have to stay at TWC over winter until it is warm enough to release her back into the wild.

So I set up a little enclosure for her. A small aquarium with a very, very fine double mesh lid. Bricks to hold down the lid securely. Newspaper on the bottom, then filled the aquarium about two inches high with coconut substrate.

Why coconut substrate? It’s like a cross between soil and a very fine mulch. The fibers are soft, naturally anti-microbial, very absorbent, resist mold, and it is great for burrowing into. The alternative would have been paper towel bottom with shredded paper for the little snake to move around in. Not nearly as nice for her.

After setting the substrate, I put in a hide for her. A plastic dome that looks like a rock with a cave opening on one side. And I found a small plastic box with round entrance/exit hole in one end, to be her humidity box. Substrate was placed in it up to the hole, I dampened that substrate, and placed the box in her enclosure. A small water dish, made from a clean blue plastic jar lid, was filled halfway with water and placed in a corner.

D then brought her out from the Assessment room. She was hiding and staying warm in the folds of a towel that was in the small critter carrier for her, until we moved her into her new enclosure.

Once she was safely moved, I got her two micro mealworms and two phoenix worms, and D found a tiny baby earthworm. We put these in the enclosure so she would have something to eat when she felt ready. It’s hard to find food small enough for her! Her head is smaller than the eraser on a mechanical pencil.

She brought back memories of Long John Slither, my childhood pet. When I was little, I studied snakes and I had asked my mom for one for more than a year. She thought it was a phase that would pass. We ended up purchasing Slither, a Garder Snake, from a local pet store when he was a tiny baby.

L. J. Slither was a beloved family member with us for 4 or 5 years when I was in elementary school. I still have photo albums of his sheddings and photos of us together. Seeing this sweet little wild brownsnake, I couldn’t help think of Slither. Of course, this little one will be at the TWC only until it is safe for her to be returned to her home in the urban wild.

Northern Brownsnakes, a.k.a. Dekay’s Brownsnakes, are pretty common in Ontario. Smaller than other snakes. And totally harmless. I have only seen snakes in the daytime, so I didn’t realize until now that they are mostly (though not totally) nocturnal. This one is too young for the rows of dots down her back to be visible yet.

Her enclosure was placed on a heating pad in front of the viewing window. So that people bringing in new patients, and visitors to the Toronto Wildlife Centre, can see this beautiful little brownsnake while she is with us.   

Hello world!

Welcome to the bestiary! This is a space where we’ll get to know the wild creatures in our laneways, neighbourhoods, and cities. The animals and the issues related to urban wildlife in the big city.  I’m just getting things set up, so please sign up for Urban Bestiary email updates and stay tuned!