“Have you ever wondered what happens at the Zoo when the last guest leaves?” As a mom who’s been there literally scores of times with my family, the answer is, “yes.” And you can now be a guest after the L.A. Zoo officially closes. The Zoo offers an overnight opportunity for families and you don’t need to bring your own tent or food or electricity to do it. I’d heard of family classes, Zoo Camp and even the adult extension courses, but the Zoo’s Creature Camp Out was by far the most appealing opportunity for my future veterinarian to experience.
My daughter and I left Daddy and “the brothers” at home on a hot Saturday and greeted L.A. Zoo staff at 6:30 p.m. Our two bags of stuff (including our sleeping bags, flashlights, water bottles, toiletries and towels) were tagged with a laminated paper hippo and loaded up on the Zoo Mobile. Our walking guided tour began soon after and the eeriest feeling set in at our first stop, the alligator exhibit. If you’re a regular at the L.A. Zoo, seeing the alligators without bumping into people or having my child tippy-toe over another kid is just kind of unheard of. Given that we were two of maybe 15 people in our group (with another group of 15 or so just ahead), it was the most effortless experience I’d ever had seeing the animals. And it seemed the animals were also more at ease.
While some animals had already turned in for the night – including my favorite water birds, the flamingos – we were there right on time for others’ dinner time. As dusk set in, by the time we’d reached base camp, we had seen elephants Billy, Julie and Tina, caught Ranger the American Black Bear in a deep sleep with his leg up on a log, Randa the rhino splashing in her pool, and a stoic stance by toucans made for pops of color with an orange-purple backdrop of the night sky. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just the highlights, but it’s important for me to mention these, as the leisurely stroll we were making helped me remember what each animal was doing.
Our guide giving us names and stories about each animal helped solidify them in my mind.
At base camp we took up decorating our Creature Camp-Out shirts with fabric markers. A grandfather in attendance asked his granddaughter what color he should make the giraffe. There were other sweet moments when s’mores were being made, like the marshmallow lick of a mother from her child’s sweet treat. During the night vision presentation, my daughter was so proud that she’d found the coyote, a small stuffed one, with her infrared night-vision binoculars. Before we all turned in there was story time with “Good Night, Little Sea Otter,” a book by Janet Halfmann.
My daughter was excited to finally use her purple mermaid sleeping bag by Enchantails, and my Amazon Prime membership was a gift as I just ordered the only one they had that could be delivered in two hours the day prior: the Teton Sports TrailHead Ultralight Sleeping Bag. I was jealous of those who knew that electricity was readily available, as they brought air mattresses. Others had cots, but all were happy to be there. There was an appreciation for the experience between adults and children and before we turned in for the night, we all hit the bathrooms close to our tents and finished our evening routines. Mirae fell asleep soon after, but I, having left the side flaps of our Black Pine Freestander Turbo 6 tent up, listened for the animals, and looked out at the stars in gratitude.
The next morning began with a continental breakfast that included chocolate donuts amongst the normal waffles, bagels, juice and cereal. L.A. Zoo Education staff member Rozia Francis presented a hands-on experience with a tortoise, hedgehog, snake and lizard which the kids thoroughly enjoyed. Before long we were off on a morning walk to see animals we hadn’t encountered the night before. As zoo admission is available for the remainder of that day, we took full advantage and stayed even after the 10 a.m. ending to our zoo camping trip. Creature Camp Out is for kids 5 and up and at least one adult must be present in each tent. Admission is $85 per person and the experience is available throughout the summer by reservation. For more information visit lazoo.org/education/sleepovers/#creature.