Lions, tigers and flamingos: Wildlife encounters at the national zoo


The Caribbean has some pretty special wildlife, and Santo Domingo’s National Zoo is a great place to view it—along with big cats, camels, rhinos, and thousands of birds. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.

The kids are totally enthralled from the minute they step through the gates and hop aboard the train that takes you all around the park. Before you even get to the animals, you are captivated by the scenery. Amongst this lush vegetation, it’s easy to forget you are in a city. The train takes you up and down rolling hills, under low-hanging bamboo, and through cool, shady areas of tropical forest (where some 60 species of birds live wild!), before emerging onto the grassy, open plains where lions, tigers, and zebras roam.

Make your way over to the river that borders one side of the park, where flocks of pink flamingos stand sentry on one leg. It’s pleasantly cool and quiet there, and as you peer through the dense foliage, you see a flash of electric blue and bright yellow as a parrot swoops past.

Keeping the river on your left, you come to a pony area and, before you know it, the kids have persuaded you to let them go for a ride. The look on their faces as they sit proudly on the back of the gentlest of ponies simply has to be captured on camera. No sooner after they’ve dismounted, they’re on to the next attraction: the petting zoo. They can hardly contain their excitement at being able to pet and even hold their new furry friends.

By this point, energy levels are dipping, so it’s time to find the picnic area. Tables and benches are arranged in the shade, so you can cool off and relax for a few minutes while the little ones enjoy the playground.

Fed, rested, and refreshed, you hop on the train again and go to see some of the African and South American wildlife. The enclosures are large, and the habitats are similar to the animals’ natural environment. In the heat of the day, silky black panthers lie contentedly in the branches of a tree, a jaguar takes a dip in the watering hole, and iguanas bake themselves in the sun.

As you’re in the Dominican Republic, you don’t want to miss some of the island’s endemic wildlife. The Hispaniolan boa is well-camouflaged, so keep your eyes and ears open, and also be on the lookout for the furry little hutia and solenodon. Both are rodents, and the solenodon in particular looks quite appealing with his buggy eyes, big ears, and furry face—but beware his venomous fangs!

Before you leave, be sure to visit the aviary. The birds love to show off their incredible plumage, and it will imprint the vibrant colors of the Caribbean on the kids’ memories.

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