For Mother's Day weekend, the San Diego Zoo is celebrating with a Garden Festival. The festival highlights the botanical diversity of the park by offering various levels of education and interaction. Yesterday I had the chance to preview a VIP tour and it was the absolute perfect way to spend the afternoon.
The tours are very small in size. On our preview, we had Megan our guide, Lesley Cohn from Cohn Restaurants and Katherine Humpus, Executive Chef of Bo Beau Kitchen + Bar in Ocean Beach. We also had two animal nutritionists on board, as well as Dani from the Zoo's marketing department and Chris Morrow, a reporter for CNN.com. The concept of these tours is to offer a rare behind the scenes experience, while being educated about how much goes into animal nutrition and maintaining the zoo as a certified botanical garden. The Cohn Restaurants are involved because they'll be providing food during Garden Fest and each day a chef will accompany a VIP tour. (Look for them sampling food by the Children's Zoo from Noon-2pm each day).
This was definitely one of the coolest things I've been invited to do. We started off meeting one of the koala trainers in the "backstage" of the koala exhibit. She brought out Burley, the zoo's 2 year old koala ambassador. He was sweet as can be and she put him on his perch and I got snap happy.
From the koalas, we rode over to the Galapagos Tortoise exhibit and got to visit with the ladies. The males and females coexist for 6 months and then they give the ladies a 6 month breeding break. They love bright colors, so when we brought out the hibiscus flowers, they speedily approached each of us and went to town.
After the Tortoise (Tortouoi? Tortoises?) we went to a restricted area to check out one of the zoo's many greenhouses. We ate some plants and flowers that grow around the zoo. This guava pineapple flower was my favorite. I could've eaten a whole bowl of the petals.
We also learned how to pollinate orchids and potted 1 year old eucalyptus plants.
Our tour was supposed to take us to Bear Canyon to meet with a trainer, but apparently there was an emergency with an otter who had surgery and may have been experiencing complications, so instead, we went to the Panda exhibit to watch Yun Zi go to town on some bamboo.
The tour was approaching the two hour mark, so we wrapped up and said our goodbyes. Honestly, this was an amazing way to spend an afternoon.
If a tour like this sounds interesting to you, reserve your spot now. We were on the "Nature's Treats For Man And Beast - A Chef's Perspective" tour, but there are other options, too. My understanding is that there are 4 tours each day, but only one of those is with the local Cohn chefs, which means there are are about 35 total tour spots (7-8 spots with the chef) each day, so don't wait to make your reservation. Thanks again to Dani, Megan, and everyone at the Zoo for a wonderful afternoon. To see more of my photos, click 'keep on reading' below or check out the full album here.