The Memphis Zoo is not just a zoo — it’s a place where people come to enjoy an exercising session, briskly walking among the gorgeous animals. Some folks simply come for their lunch hour, meeting spouses and kids for a fun lunch in a setting that feels exotic and removed.
“I always say that you want to go kind of early in the morning,” says Laura Doty, Marketing Director of the Memphis Zoo, giving us the insider tip she gives her own friends. “Most of the animals are going to be pretty active in the morning, and a lot of times, when there’s a little drizzle, a lot of people don’t come, but in actuality, many of the animals like it and get very active.”
Laura says to also think of the seasons. “You might get to see different behaviors from the different animals. For instance, the Giant Pandas and Snow Leopards love cold weather,” she says. And this is how zoo members enjoy the zoo’s offerings, taking their time and seeing what’s seasonally appropriate, whether that’s an animal in its climate of choice or a fun exhibit. “Most zoo members don’t actually do the zoo in full each day,” says Laura. “They might always make time to see their favorites and rotate the rest of them.”
Laura’s No. 1 tip? “Check the website before you come for your trip! You never know when we’ll have an activity that day, so if you check the website, you can see the special activities and events going on that day.”
Whether you’re on a date with your sweetie or your camera, with a gaggle of friends or a large swath of your family, or perhaps you’re just a die-hard animal enthusiast looking for interactive and educational opportunities, the Memphis Zoo has something you’ll love!
Ideal Itineraries for Every Type of Memphis Zoo Visitor
If you’ve been there, you know it can be frustrating to navigate public spaces with a stroller, let alone a stroller plus kids with the freedom to toddle or sprint wherever they please. It can be like herding cats, especially when you’re outnumbered. So, finding a family-friendly spot that captivates their attention and keeps them within eyesight is like finding an oasis in a desert. Luckily, to all the moms and dads out there, the Memphis Zoo has got your back.
Once Upon a Farm is one such oasis that can delight the kids for hours. It not only boasts adorable farm animals, but a playground and farm train that circles the entire zoo, giving them a sneak peek of other areas of the zoo, which feature kiddie rides, including the beloved endangered species carousel. And right now, the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” exhibit is on display. “With 160 artifacts and oddities spread throughout zoo, plus two rooms, kids love it,” says Laura. “It’s very interactive, and you see if you can compete with the Ripley’s people.” Also, don’t miss the newest zoo exhibit, the Zambezi River Hippo Camp, home to baby hippo Winnie, who just turned 1.
Finally, you can’t miss taking the family to Zoo Boo during Halloween and Zoo Lights during the holidays, both beloved annual events in which zoo members enjoy discounted rates. “Family zoo memberships are one of the best deals in town,” says Laura. “They pay for themselves after two visits.”
Thrill Seekers & Curious Learners
The Memphis Zoo offers an abundance of educational — and entertaining — enrichment opportunities. Keepers of the reptiles, hippos, pandas, primates, polar bear, elephants, giraffes, wild cats, farm animals, aquarium animals and animals of the night all offer chats throughout the day. There are daily sea lion shows and various demonstrations with animals on the Wild Encounters Stage, as well as feedings with the giraffes, crocodiles, grizzly bears, tropical birds, elephants and penguins.
March through October, the seasonal interactive activities ramp up:
You can enjoy a Giraffe Feeding Adventure ($5 per feeding), Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. — fun for both families and couples!
Ride a camel on the zoo’s Camel Excursion Rides, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., every day. Rides are $5 per person, and $10 keepsake photos are available.
Head to Stingray Bay to interact with stingrays and sharks at the zoo’s 17,000-gallon pool from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry is at 4:30 p.m.). “Depending on what time of day, if you’re lucky enough, you could get a chance to feed the stingrays as well,” says Laura. Entry is $2 for members and $3 for non-members, and feeding is an additional $2.
Coming back Memorial Day weekend thru Labor Day weekend:
Everyone’s favorite, the Budgie House opens up with the friendly (and hungry) budgies, a.k.a. parakeets or lorikeets, from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Admission is included with gate entry, and feeding sticks are $1. “You can get some amazing selfies, for sure,” says Laura of this exhibit.
Soft-Hearted Baby Animal Lovers
“We had quite the baby boom last year,” says Laura. “Baby Winnie, now 908 pounds, is our hippo that was born March 23, 2017, and right before her, we had a baby two-toed sloth born on March 17. Her name is Lua, which means “moon” in Portuguese. She is currently on exhibit in the ‘Animals of the Night.’ Reagan, a Francois Langur, was born on President’s Day. Francois Langurs are hilarious little monkeys.” The mature ones are black with a few white hashes around their face, explains Laura, adding, “but when they are born, they look like little orange aliens — they are bright, bright orange, which is beyond funny.”
The zoo also welcomed three giraffe calves last year: Bogey, Wakati and Panya. “Even though they are quite tall, they are still very short compared to the adults,” says Laura.
Even though he was born a couple of years ago, Baby Rowan, our a neon male orangutan, is still adorable,” says Laura. “He is the cutest thing ever, but he also has a lot of spunk, and if you are patient, you will get some sort of hilarious and wonderful antics from him. I love him.”
The Memphis Zoo also has two Spot-Nosed Guenon, which are little monkeys with a white oval patch on their nose. “Their scientific name means ‘springy of tail monkey,’ and I liken them to little pinballs because they just go — ping! ping! — all over their exhibits,” says Laura. “They are brothers. Benjamin Button was born a couple of years ago, and Grommet was born last year. Their mother’s name is Thimble; you can see the sewing theme. Our keepers’ get creative with the names!”
Photographers & Instagram Artists
The Memphis Zoo is teeming with terrific photo opps. “In addition to breathtaking animals, we have a lot of fabulous architecture. Beginning in 1993, we started renovating all of our exhibits,” says Laura of their striking architecture. Among them, the Zambezi River Hippo Camp and Teton Trek, the zoo’s version of Yellowstone complete with a replica of the great lodge. Laura notes the iconic totem poles at the Northwest Passage. “”There is no greater shot than capturing the totem poles against clear blue skies,” says Laura. “It is just breathtaking, as is our China exhibit with its beautiful Asian pagoda.”
In terms of capturing incredible animals, you can certainly do that at the Memphis Zoo. It’s one of only four zoos in the country that has giant pandas, which is actually quite remarkable. The male panda, Le Le, which means “happy happy,” and the female panda, Ya Ya, which means “beautiful little girl,” could be indoors in their day room, but in the winter, they’ll be outdoors. “Le Le puts bamboo on his head like a little hat,” says Laura with a laugh. “Our pandas are amazing creatures.”
Whether you’re on your first date or you’re a long-time couple, the Memphis Zoo offers an abundance of activities that allows you and your date to enjoy easy conversation or engagement in a fun, interactive activity. Simply stroll through the zoo or enjoy animal exhibits, interactive experiences, architecture and food vendors with your sweetie. And the special events allow for a heightened couples’ experience.
“Zoo Lights is cheaper than movies,” says Laura of the annual holiday zoo tradition during November and December, which is less than $10 per person. “It’s a fun tradition to see the zoo in a new light.” Walk among the twinkle lights hand in hand for a truly romantic experience. And to make the date night worthy of the silver screen when you hop on a ferris wheel, $5 per person, or head to the ice-skating rink, $6 per person, including skate rental and 1 hour of skate time.
Couples should also be sure to experience Roar & Pour, Zoo Brew and Zoo Rendezvous.
Zoo visitors can rent wheelchairs for $12, electric scooters for $28, and strollers — $10 for a single, $12 for a double. Also, March through October, for those who want a break from walking, the tram circles the perimeter of each exhibit. A tram pass is $2 per person and good for the whole day.
The Memphis Zoo is located at 2000 Prentiss Place, Memphis, TN 38112. Hours are Monday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (from March 3 through October 16) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (October 16 through March 2). To learn more, call (901) 333-6500 or visit memphiszoo.org.
Thank you to the Memphis Zoo for the awesome photos!