Top cats at the St. Louis Zoo

I was lucky enough to visit the St. Louis Zoo twice this year, and while it includes a number of fascinating animals, my main reason for visiting is seeing the big cats. Jaguars, I discovered, can still be found in parts of the southwest.

Tigers are more rare, however. Several sub-species, including the Amur tiger in St. Louis, are critically endangered. Tigers are also the world’s largest cats, and used to be my favorite, but there are so many lovely big cats, it’s difficult to pick just one!

watermarked tiger
I stayed long enough on my last visit to see this tiger enjoy an afternoon bath.

The snow leopard on display was content to “hide” in its tree all day. I say all day, as I was there for five hours, and the lower branches of the tree were where it stayed.

Can you see why snow leopards are so hard to spot in the wild?

But I was delighted to find the Amur leopard awake, and so close I could see its golden eyelashes as it paced. I could watch big cats all day, and on this visit, I nearly did!

angry amur
I discovered Amur leopards at the St. Louis Zoo. They quickly became one of my favorite big cats.

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There’s more to the zoo than big cats!

There is so much to see in St. Louis, and I am behind in posting both stories and photos. I just returned from my second trip to Missouri’s Gateway to the West, and of course the first place I (re)visited was the zoo.

The St. Louis Zoo is tucked into the southern end of a nearly 1,400-acre marvel called Forest Park. A walk through the zoo is free; parking costs extra, but if you don’t mind the extra walking, there are other areas in Forest Park where you can park at no cost.

My main goal in returning to the zoo was to visit the big cats, and as I stayed for most of the day, I was not disappointed (except by the shy and sleepy snow leopard, which I will talk about in another post).

I missed a lot last time, so chose first to ramble through the River’s Edge. (A cheetah was in there somewhere.) I found some hippos, a rhino, and a Malayan sun bear, which has an exceptionally long tongue, which it uses to capture both insects and honey.

hiding hippos
You’d think it would be hard for hippos to hide, but these two figured out how.
I captured this rhino soaking up the sun.
I captured this rhino soaking up the sun.
Malayan sun bear, mid-yawn.
Malayan sun bear, mid-yawn.

Unfortunately, the cheetah was occupied elsewhere. But I did manage to find a baby elephant.

Baby elephants are still quite big!
Baby elephants are still quite big!

I meandered around a few other areas before making my way over to Red Rocks. Once I see the giraffes, I know I am getting close.  The weather was warmer than my last visit, and the giraffes were much more active.

I am always amazed at how tall giraffes are. Newborn giraffes are six feet tall, and weigh about 150 pounds!

I have more photos to share, but I’ll end this post with one of my other favorite animals: a polar bear.

No visit to the zoo is complete without seeing a polar bear!
No visit to the zoo is complete without seeing a polar bear!

Get wild in the city: The Saint Louis Zoo

I’m like a kid when it comes to the Z-O-O. Mention those three letters in succession and I am prowling the Internet, in search of snow leopards and polar bears.

My husband’s latest assignment landed him in Saint Louis. I was able to visit after a few long months, and my first outing (after we spent a chilly evening exploring the city around the hotel), was to the St. Louis Zoo.

Bordered by Government Drive and Wells Drive in 1,371-acre Forest Park, the zoo is family-friendly, and mostly free. I parked on the outskirts, in order to bypass the parking fee, and walked nearly a mile before I asked a parent the grown-up equivalent of, “Are we there yet?” Just around the corner, was the reply, so I knew then I was heading in the right direction.

Looking back at the map now, I could have saved myself some time in finding the objects of my affection, because I apparently took the long way around. But there was much to see around every corner.

tall giraffe
No zoo visit is complete without seeing a few giraffes.

I found the Bird House and Bird Garden, which included a burrowing owl, and several Collie’s jays. I took pictures of both, but the jays are extremely lively and the owl was a bit too far away to get the snapshots as clear as I wanted.

I did manage a few peeks at Kali, the new bear on the block (he has lived at the zoo for less than a year). Popular with children, Kali was looking for treats that afternoon, and quickly found some.

polar bear looking
Kali was orphaned in the wild, but responds well to visitors.
polar bear yum
Kali enjoying an afternoon snack.

Once I made my way to Big Cat Country at Red Rocks, I began my search for snow leopards. I found one, sleeping comfortably, in the crook of a tall tree.

DSCN2304 (2)
Snow leopards are known for their big paws and long, bushy tails.

I also found a gorgeous Amur leopard, also napping the afternoon away. Amur leopards are even more rare than snow leopards; they are nearly extinct in the wild.

amur leopard
Breathtakingly beautiful, Amur leopards are also known as Far East leopards. They are critically endangered.

No less beautiful, but more intent on exploring its habitat, was a nearby jaguar.

Unlike some of the other big cats, this jaguar was wide awake.

I made a few more trips to see the snow and the Amur leopard before I left the zoo. I missed seeing the cougar (who must have been sleeping away from prying eyes), and the tiger was awake, but not wanting to sit still for pictures.

The male lion, however, obliged.

daddy lion
This handsome fellow kept both eyes on me, until he became bored with my picture taking and moved away.
daddy lion mane
While the female hid in the shadows, her mate was more interested in finding a nice spot in the sun.

All good trips must come to an end, and I had to find my way back to the car. I headed out, as I had a long walk. I was amused on the way out by a gorilla, who was tossed a bag of goodies by a zookeeper. He grabbed the bag and ran, to enjoy his snack, out of sight.

gorilla gimme that
This Western lowland gorilla grabbed its lunch and disappeared.