Contrary to popular belief, rabbits don’t really love carrots, and elephants don’t like peanuts. Or better yet, elephants can forget things despite claims that they never do — they just happen to have very strong memories compared to other animals. Also, opposite to the common thought, ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand when they get scared and black panthers are not a separate species but are typically jaguars or leopards with melanism.

Needless to say, there is a wide variety of animal species out there, and like elephants, we can’t be expected to remember everything about them. That’s why we have places like zoos and wildlife centers to educate the public about these amazing creatures on our planet. Here in the South Sound community, there are plenty of local zoos and wildlife centers for not just animal education but also fun and adventure!

Wildlife Centers in South Sound
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium love to spoil their animals, such as this big cat who’s enjoying his own Christmas tree during the holidays. They’re grrrrreat! Photo courtesy: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

5400 N Pearl Street, Tacoma

Only one place in the Pacific Northwest combines zoo and aquarium animal experiences in one location, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma! This 29-acre zoological park was established in 1905 and has since grown to attract almost 700,000 visitors yearly. The zoo sits within the 700-acre Point Defiance Park, which offers spectacular views of Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains, and Puget Sound. So, not only will you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in wild animals that you won’t find here at home, but you can also enjoy local wildlife while exploring the park.

Delve into animal habitats like the Pacific Seas Aquarium, Asian Forest Sanctuary, Arctic Tundra, and Red Wolf Woods in this wonderful zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Sister Zoo Northwest Trek Wildlife Park also holds this same title, ensuring rigorously high animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, and more standards.

Kids are inspired at Point Defiance, and their imaginations are invited to run wild in the zoo’s Kids’ Zone. Here, they can enjoy animal exploration, interact with small animals, and enjoy monkeying around on the playground, where humans play like animals as they jump, hop, climb, and slide. The zoo also hosts a vast selection of premier experiences as well as camps and programs for the kiddos and a beautiful nature play garden. They are also happy to host private events and even weddings for an unforgettable jungle wedding with a celebrity animal guest!

Wildlife Centers in South Sound
Like Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, sister zoo Northwest Trek Wildlife Park also has the Association of Zoos & Aquariums seal of approval, meaning they spoil their animals too! Just like this black bear enjoying his Halloween pumpkin. Photo courtesy: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

11610 Trek Drive E, Eatonville

Meet native northwest animals and experience the awe and wonder of our region’s nature and wildlife up close on walking paths or premium tours of your choice at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Open every Friday through Sunday, here you can catch glimpses of cats, canines, bears, birds, and all sorts of wild animals inhabiting our forests and wetlands. Have fun exploring eagle passage or take a Wild Drive through the park’s 435-acre Free-Roaming Area, home to elk, bison, moose, caribou, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, deer, and more!

Feel like you’re in a Jurassic Park movie if you sign up for their Keeper Adventure Tours, during which you’ll get an up close and personal experience with the wildlife in the free-roaming area while listening to one of the park’s keepers tell stories. For those shutterbugs, consider taking a photo tour with enough room on the tram to set up your monopod thanks to its maximum of four-people rule. After you’re done discovering all the wild animals out there, take the kids and head on over to the Kid’s Trek area, where you and your family can enjoy some wild fun in their nature-inspired playground, complete with ropes, slides, sand, cabins and a massive “tree trunk.”

Wildlife Centers in South Sound
You’ll have a hoot at Morse Wildlife Preserve every second Sunday from April until October, exploring the park and finding wildlife in their natural habitat. Photo courtesy: Morse Wildlife Preserve

Morse Wildlife Preserve

25415 70th Avenue E, Graham

At Morse Wildlife Preserve, you can explore more than 90 acres of land preserved as a wildlife habitat while also providing exceptional educational and recreational experiences to hundreds of visitors each year. The preserve initially started as a donation of approximately 50 acres from Lloyd and Maxine Morse, but a private party later purchased another 40 acres and donated the land to extend the preserve and allow for more roaming room for the preserve’s majestic creatures.

Currently, Forterra, Morse Force, and Tahoma Audubon Society work together to run the preserve, with the Tahoma Audubon Society providing educational programming and support for visitors. Five critical habitats make up the preserve, including dry Douglas-fir forest, prairie, Oregon white oak savanna/ woodland, wetland, and moist lowland mixed forest, which provides ample opportunity for visitors to catch glimpses of the vast varieties of species that call these habitats home.

Those interested in exploring the preserve and learning more about the area’s natural wildlife can stop in for Second Sundays at Morse for visits between April and October on the second Sunday of the month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since no reservation is required for these Second Sundays, stop on by and enjoy their Interpretive Trail Guide but be sure to check out more information at the MWP Visitor Information webpage before you head on over as this is a nature preserve, there are a few rules they’d like visitors to adhere to so that both you and the animals can have a safe, immersive wildlife experience.

Wildlife Centers in South Sound
Debbie Dolittle’s Animal Experience is not only fun, but it’s also educational! You’ll get to meet kinds of animal species and even pet them, as your tour guides tell you all there is to know about their cuddly creatures. Photo courtesy: Debbie Dolittle’s Animal Experience

Debbie Dolittle’s Animal Experience

120 138th Street S, Tacoma

Have you ever wanted to get up close and personal with a cute little otter? How about a slow yet adorable sloth? Well, you can at Debbie Dolittle’s Animal Experience in Tacoma! For just $89 per person, you can enjoy some quality time with these lovable creatures. You can get up close and personal with them in an animal experience that truly is one of a kind at Debbie Dolittle’s.

These hands-on animal experiences are available year-round to the public, indoors and out when the weather is blue skies and sunshine. They specialize in baby and miniature pets, farm animals, and exotics that have entered the zoo’s care. Here, you’ll find capybaras, baby kangaroos, bunnies, goats, lambs, zebu babies, birds, and small reptiles, to name a few.

Of course, this petting zoo is just as much about education as it is about having wild fun with these spectacular beings. Their friendly and patient staff are all well-educated on the types of animals the zoo has on hand, and they’re more than happy to share this knowledge with each guest as you get to meet these fantastic creatures. Besides offering daily visits, Debbie Dolittle’s Animal Experience is also available to host parties, be it birthday or otherwise, in their party barn, as well as field trips from preschoolers to senior citizens. They even offer “zoo to you” packages where they’ll bring the zoo to you for fun times like birthday parties, corporate events, churches, schools, assisted living facilities, photo shoots, and more!  

So the next time you feel like brushing up on your animal facts and engaging with them, consider heading to any of these local zoos or wildlife centers in the South Sound.