Jan 25, 2022

Scenes from the Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, La.

It doesn’t take a lot of browsing on this blog to realize how much I love the city of New Orleans.  There’s undoubtedly a lot to like, from the music to the food to the “anything goes” party atmosphere that makes New Orleans in a lot of ways a playground for adults.  Unfortunately, the city’s reputation also leads some people to believe New Orleans is not a family-friendly city.  I strongly disagree. 

Whenever I hear people planning vacations and want to exclude New Orleans out of concern there will be nothing to do with kids, I’m ready to list off several places to take them.  And at the top of that list is the Audubon Zoo.

The site of the Audubon Zoo is part of the even-larger Audubon Park in New Orleans’ Uptown area.  Its origins as a zoo go back to the mid-1880s with its first major expansion taking place during the Great Depression when most of the zoo’s oldest remaining displays were built. 

After two more major refurbishments in the 1970s and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, today’s Audubon Zoo spans 58 acres and showcases more than 2,000 animals, and it’s rightfully a source of pride among New Orleans residents. 

On a personal level, I’ve been going to the Audubon Zoo since I was five.  I still have a photo taken of me during a school field trip straddling the statue of a bear. Sadly, I could no longer find the bear statue on my most recent visit right before COVID-19 became a part of everyday life, but that didn’t keep me, Punky and the Kiddo from having a great time.   

As the first photo of this blog suggests, the first impression you’ll likely have – at least it’s my first impression, anyway – once you get past the entrance, is how much the original grounds seem to resemble an Asian botanical garden.  There are plenty of meandering pathways and statues blending into the foliage, as you decide which direction to take to begin your tour.   

It’s hard to not want to take a photo-op before you head on your way. 

I’m guessing it must be good luck to rub the baby elephant before moving on. 

Most people will likely veer right after the fountain toward the closest “habitat,” which is fittingly the Asian Domain.  The real pachyderms are here, of course, in their own Elephant Pavilion.  We found this pair eager to entertain the passersby.  They were playfully competitive and, at one point, a brief game of elephant beach volleyball broke out.  It was easily the highlight of the Asian section for us.

Moving on to the World of Primates section, we were surprised to find the baboons relatively bashful.  Maybe this guy is just lost in thought. 

The African Savannah may be the largest section of the Audubon Zoo, but these animals deserve plenty of space to roam.  Scattered throughout this exhibit are your rhinos, zebras, lions, wildebeests and more.

And, after you visit the giraffes, be sure to also check out Monkey Hill on the opposite side of the path.  It was “built” during the Great Depression expansion, and many locals still claim it to be the highest point in New Orleans.  Honestly, I can’t think of any natural hill that would compete for the title.       

Beyond the African Savannah, at the back of the zoo, is the section that probably garners the most attention from first-time visitors – the Louisiana Swamp domain.  And they do a pretty good job at depicting the wilder aspects of Cajun Country.  For instance, drive the back roads from New Orleans to Lafayette, and you’re liable to see an occasional bear crossing sign on the highway.  Here, the Louisiana black bears are much easier to find.     

But the zoo’s most famous resident lives in the adjacent Reptile Encounter exhibit – the white alligator.  They’re quite rare, so it obviously makes more sense to house them inside rather than in the swamp domain pond with the rest of the zoo’s gators. 

After the Louisiana Swamp, we began to circle back toward the entrance, through an area known as Jaguar Jungle.  Here, we found this nosy guy.  The photographer obviously needs some lessons, but if you look closely, you can still make out the distinctive traits of an anteater. 

The last section we visited was the South American Pampas.  Again, because of the animals represented here, the domain is large enough to provide most of its inhabitants plenty of space to roam, like the capybara we passed by.   

The alpaca, however, seem content to just hang out waiting to get pampered on the staged alpaca farm.     

But the highlight of the South American domain, and perhaps its biggest surprise to me anyway, was seeing a black swan as the centerpiece of this flock of other water-loving birds. 

Suffice to say each of us had our favorite takeaways from the Audubon Zoo …  

… but none were tastier than the taffy from the Roman Candy Wagon.  It’s an edible piece of New Orleans history, and unless you’re going to Jazz Fest your best chance of running into the wagon is probably at the zoo. 

It’s very easy to spend a half-day to a day at the Audubon Zoo.  Even if you’re not entertaining kiddos, I recommend anyone who frequents New Orleans to go at least once.  It will help you appreciate a whole other side of the Big Easy. 

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