Tour the world at Potawatomi Zoo

Many animals, including this takin, came out to say hello to early visitors when the Potawatomi Zoo opened Friday, March 28. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Many animals, including this takin, came out to say hello to early visitors when the Potawatomi Zoo opened Friday, March 28. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—The Potawatomi Zoo opened its gates for another season on March 28, providing visitors with an interesting place to get out and enjoy the coming of spring.

Although the trees were bare and the grass was still more brown than green on opening day, it’s not hard to imagine how beautiful the setting will be as buds start to appear on branches and everything begins to green up.

Paths winding throughout the zoo’s 23 acres provide visitors with the opportunity to stroll past a wide variety of habitats in Indiana’s oldest zoo.

Although the zoo originated simply as a duck pond in 1902, it is now home to roughly 400 different species of animals.

According to Rachel Rogers, special events and membership coordinator at the zoo, visitor favorites include the Amur leopards and the white Bengal tiger.

While the late coming of spring has kept a number of species indoors longer than usual, those big cats and many other animals are already out in areas where visitors can enjoy watching them.

Kangaroos, wallabies, prairie dogs, takins and camels are just some of the animals that have ventured out to welcome spring, and many more will soon be joining them.

The zoo has undergone many changes over the last century, and more changes are taking place as the zoo gears up for another season.

“Guests will see some subtle changes around the zoo,” Rogers said. “We have a more streamlined entrance experience where guests can purchase all of the tickets to the attractions along with their entry fee. We’ll still have the stationary ticket booth, but now they can also buy everything all at once.”

Those attractions include the zoo train and the butterfly exhibit. While the train is now running, the butterfly exhibit will not be open until the weather warms up more.

“The butterfly exhibit will be open from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend,” Rogers explained. “The butterflies are all tropical — none are native — so they are sensitive to the colder weather.”

The petting zoo area, known as the Zoo Farm, will also open for Memorial Day weekend, offering pony rides and other activities, but some of those animals are already outside waiting to greet guests as well. Llamas, goats and peacocks can all be seen up close in that area of the zoo.

Zoo personnel are also working on a new home for the red pandas.

“We’ve started building a new red panda exhibit. It should be completed by mid- to late April, depending on the weather,” Rogers said. “We have a nice red panda family of two males and one female that people love to visit.”

Common carp and Canada geese also eagerly await visitors, who can feed them with treats from vending machines placed along the banks of a stream that winds through the zoo.

Indoor exhibits are open now, featuring a variety of bats, reptiles and primates, including golden lion tamarins. Other animals, like chimpanzees and flamingos, can be viewed by guests through large windows.

The gift shop is also open, fully stocked with all sorts or souvenirs, including stuffed animals and educational toys.

With an annual attendance of more than 200,000 visitors, the Potawatomi Zoo is one of South Bend’s largest attractions, second only to Notre Dame University. As such, its paths will soon be filled with visitors from across the country.

However, local residents have the opportunity to beat the crowds that summer will bring, and visiting the zoo can be a leisurely, enjoyable way to get out in nature and experience the springtime.

The Potawatomi Zoo is located at 500 S. Greenlawn Ave. in South Bend, and it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, including holidays.

While admission is $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for children ages 3 to 14, $6.50 for seniors 62 and over, and free for children 2 and under, area residents may want to consider purchasing a membership, which will allow them to visit the zoo free of charge anytime.

Members are also invited to a special members-only picnic and are admitted to Zoo Boo, the annual three-day Halloween event, for free.

“We have special events throughout the year, including a wine tasting in June, the Grape Escape, and the Zoo Brew, a beer tasting event in the fall,” Rogers added.

More information about the Potawatomi Zoo and its calendar of events is available by calling (574) 235-9800 or by visiting www.potawatomizoo.org.

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