World Wildlife Zoo & Aquarium

Photos courtesy of World Wildlife Zoo & Aquarium

Recently, we easily spent a whole day exploring an oasis in the middle of the West Valley: Arizona’s wonderful World Wildlife Zoo & Aquarium in Litchfield Park. The property is privately owned and operated by Mickey Ollson, a former schoolteacher who loved exotic birds and wanted to introduce city children to wildlife from all over the world. The zoo opened back in 1984, with just Ollson and three employees—two of whom still work there. The aquarium opened in late 2008 and is still the only aquarium between Albuquerque, New Mexico and San Diego, Calif.

The park is open 365 days a year and features sixty-six developed acres with hundreds of exhibits, four ride attractions, three retail shops, and several dining options. There are 500 different species represented by the more than 3,000 individual specimens, with three believed to be extinct in their native habitats and over fifteen endangered. The zoo aids in the breeding and the preserving of these animals. It is truly an Arizona treasure.

This zoo is unique in that the animals can and do get very close to you—close enough to touch! (But don’t touch!) The animal’s habitats are constructed with all of their needs in mind. Field trips bring 75,000 schoolchildren to the park each year. During a fun guided tour at the outset, we quickly ascertained that Ollson’s vision and creativity have not faded over the years. He has many new projects currently underway and in the drawing stages, which he helps to dream up and design. It is worth mentioning that if you are a bird lover, this is the place for you, with its wide assortment of exotic birds in all color combinations. The property is abundant with trees that provide shade for the critters as well as the people! We probably spent about half our time outside and the other half  viewing creatures indoors, including those in the precious baby-animal nursery, which, on the day we visited, showcased two mountain lions, one 3-week-old Bengal tiger, and the cutest frolicking baby warthogs that just made us giggle over and over again.

The animals: Among our favorites were the white tigers, kangaroos, Deffassa waterbucks, zebras, lion, meerkats, wallabies, emus, white rhino, and giant tortoises. And you won’t want to miss the unique jaguar’s overhead habitat!

Get interactive with the giraffe feeding station, koi feeding pond, lori parrot feeding, and educational wildlife encounter shows!

The rides include the African Safari Train Ride (through an open area with a variety of animals), the Log Flume Ride (travels through the aquarium), the Skyride (over the treetops and some of the animal enclosures), and the Australian Boat Ride (alongside the Kangaroo Walkabout).

For the kids: They’ll love the petting zoo, the kids’ playground, and the carousel featuring zoo animals.

Dining: Grab a quick lunch at Congo Cooker Café, enjoy Skyride Café (open seasonally) and treat yourself to fine dining at Tiburón (serves lunch and dinner).

During the 2011–12 winter, a cluster of buildings named Dragon World will open to showcase reptiles with legs, including iguanas, crocs, monitors, and large tortoises.

Currently, the impressive aquarium features over 200 species in 33,000 square feet of indoor exhibits. It was a delight to see the faces and hear the exclamations of the children viewing the aquariums in awe. “Wow! Mom (or Dad!), come and look at this!” was heard repeatedly. The aquarium opens your eyes to the whole unseen underwater world.

Three themed buildings: Diversity of Life in the Water, The Wild and Wonderful, and Predators.

Species: There are plenty of sharks, penguins, eels, octopi, stingrays, seahorses, rays, and so much more to see. Don’t miss the stoic albino alligator (there are two—one is housed in the zoo portion)!

Get interactive with the Stingray Touch Tank and Starfish Touch Tank!

Coming soon: Additional square footage is under construction right now and will eventually cover 100,000 square-feet in total! Call or visit the Web site for updates of the phases opening.

Now that we have finally discovered this wonderful park a short drive away, we will be making regular visits, as Wildlife Zoo & Aquarium continually adds to its collection of land and underwater critters! Note that both the zoo and the aquarium have gift shops with reasonably priced items and something for all ages.

Did you know that the World Wildlife Zoo & Aquarium has an outreach through which zoo ambassadors visit schools, local television stations, churches, retirement homes, and other places? Maybe you should consider including our local zoo into your curriculum! Or, you could consider volunteering. But one thing is a must: you must visit!

For additional information, call (623) 935-WILD or visit Zoo exhibits open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; aquarium exhibits open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Daytime admission to both: Adults $27.50, kids 3 to 12 years $14.25, children 2 and younger free. Special evening admission to aquarium only (after 5 p.m.): Adults $16, kids 3 to 12 years $8.99, kids 2 and younger free. Prices do not include tax. Group and senior discounts available. Additional charges for rides. Annual memberships are $100 for adults and $50 for children ages 3 to 17. Wheelchair and stroller rentals available.

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