Tuesday, September 20, 2011

San Diego Zoo Part IV: Elephant Odyssey

Now that I'm writing this post, I've realized that I didn't take as many pictures of Elephant Odyssey as I probably should have. Perhaps that says something about which animals I'm more interested in (i.e.: things like sauropsids, amphibians, and the smaller mammals instead of the large crowd-pleasing mammals). Which also means that, ironically, I didn't take any pictures of the elephants for which the entire exhibition area is named, even though they had these gigantic exhibits that take several minutes to walk past.

By the way, I mentioned earlier that this new area replaces the Horn and Hoof Mesa that ran down the entire "right" side of the zoo, so it's a big, big exhibition area. Fortunately, my stamina appears to increase by a hundred percent when I'm in a zoo, so I could walk all day without being tired out too much. (Once I stepped out of the zoo, on the other hand...) There was also the fact that I was suffering from a bit of jet lag at the time, which turned out to be useful in that I didn't get hungry at the "right" times and so didn't have to make long stops for lunch. (Meanwhile, the "increased stamina effect" staved off the less desirable side effects of jet lag, i.e.: wanting to sleep at the "wrong" times, though that made me extra sleepy once the effect was gone.)

Elephant Odyssey is an interesting exhibit concept. The exhibit area focuses on extinct (Cenozoic) Californian animals and their still-living counterparts (either modern relatives or ecologically similar species). Statues of the extinct species are placed near the exhibits containing these modern counterparts. (I didn't get any photos of the statues, but I probably should have.) The titular elephants represent the many extinct proboscideans known from California. There are also some animals here that are native Californian species that known from close relatives in the recent fossil record and still live today.

A California condor, representing both a native Californian species as well as the extinct giant carnivorous bird Teratornis. An exhibit panel explains that prehistoric California condors probably survived by feeding on the carcasses of marine mammals on coastlines, while Teratornis, more dependent on the bodies of large land mammals, died out.

Another exhibit contained native turtles, lizards, newts, and frogs in an open-air and very large (compared to the occupants) display area, similar to the displays in the Reptile Mesa. I think it's really nice that small "reptiles" and amphibians get such exhibits, not just the large mammals and birds. However, I was not able to find most of the exhibit's occupants that day other than this western fence lizard.

Even native arthropods got some representation at Elephant Odyssey. There are a series of terrariums housing beetles and scorpions. However, the glare on the glass of these exhibits was very strong. I spent a long time trying to photograph some diving beetles, but in the end the only decent picture I have of the arthropods are of these dung beetles.

The two coolest animals at Elephant Odyssey got to share an exhibit. (They're both maniraptors, naturally.) One is this black-billed magpie. Corvids are cool. That goes without saying.

The other is this secretary bird, a long-legged bird of prey that hunts mostly on the ground. Secretary birds, of course, are not from California but from Africa. This one is here to represent the Daggett's eagle, an extinct long-legged hawk that did live in California. Secretary birds feed on many types of small animals, but are best known for hunting snakes, which they kill by stamping into the ground. (Okay, they actually kill most of their prey that way.)

There was also a mixed exhibit showcasing several South American mammals (capybaras, tapirs, and guanacos) to represent the fact that now-extinct capybaras, tapirs, and laminins once lived in North America. Here are some capybaras.

There are a lot of other exhibits at Elephant Odyssey (lions, jaguars, duikers, pronghorn, rattlesnakes, donkeys, camels, etc.), so I really haven't done a thorough job at covering it.


  1. A nice variety of the animals, instead of the typical crowd pleasers. Capybaras look oddly peaceful.

  2. These San Diego Zoo posts have been great! I've never gotten out to the west coast to see it for myself, so thanks for the virtual field trip. I spend some time at the Nashville Zoo this summer, and hope to have some pictures from there up soon as well.