Adventure awaits: Meet giraffes, wolves, otters and more at Lehigh Valley Zoo

·8 min read

Feed some veggies to the giraffes, marvel at the mysterious Mexican wolf pack, or book a meet and greet with an otter.

We toured the facility with zookeepers and staff and met some of the biggest stars.

Whether you like them furry or with scales, you'll find close to 400 animals at the Lehigh Valley Zoo.

Meow!

Shiska, the zoo's bobcat and Sasquatch, the resident lynx, are usually napping in their respective spaces.

But to keep active, they participate in scent enrichment.

Sasquatch loves to be gifted scents in the forms of new fur or feathers, and it stimulates her to rub and roll with her own scent.

Like many of the animals at the zoo, Shiska is part of a training program with head zookeeper Kaylyn Devine.

The bobcat participates in voluntary injection training (designed to give animals medicines without having to be put to sleep) and how to walk onto a weight scale.

Devine is one of 13 keepers who are in charge of feeding, and keeping the zoo’s animals happy and healthy.

And since each mammal is different, the keepers must learn the quirks of each species.

"It's very important for our keeper staff to understand behavior, that's what we really have to harp on is that you have to know your animals and you have to understand the behavior for those species, so you know what you're looking for," Devine says.

The lazy ones

Of all the creatures, Kangaroos and wallabies are some of the laziest in the lot.

"If they are in a comfy spot in the sun, they will move for nothing and no one," Devine says.

Spotted taking a snooze during our visit were Jenga, Jax, Uno and Hopscotch. All four joeys were born in the zoo between 2019 and 2021 and fathered by George, the lone male 'roo.

Los lobos

You won't hear it when you're there, but staff say the wolves (los lobos) tend to howl in the wee hours of the morning or at dusk (especially on rainy and cloudy days).

Meet the pack of Mexican gray wolves: Magdalena, a six-year old who arrived in 2020, and Mollete and his offspring, Stratus and Garza, who arrived in 2021.

Mexican gray wolves are the most endangered wolves in North America, with only 40 remaining in the wild.

Tip: The pack are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, a wildlife conservation program that conserves threatened or endangered species. And the zoo works closely with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s international recovery program that will reintroduce captive-born wolves into the wild. Visitors are asked to be quiet as they approach the wolf exhibit as if you meeting the species in its natural habitat.

"They are a re-release species and even though we aren't a re-release facility, we don't do anything with them. We don't train them, we don't get close to them. We have to treat them as wild wolves," Devine says. "We don't call them by their names. We just let them do their wolf magic."

Farm life

The goats Stormi and Jasper, reside with the youngest member of the zoo, Nadja.

The one-year-old antelope makes up for her youth with her size and giant personality.

According to Devine, the goats were rescued by a friend of the zoo who went to livestock auction and bid on them.

"They have a different future (because of her). She raised them as babies and that is why they are so social and sweet," Devine says. "They really are the best boys. Goats are really smart and one of our keepers trains them to do the most adorable things."

Speaking of tricks, across the way you'll find Helga, the zoo's pot-bellied pig.

She is a little on the shy side and currently learning how to harness train.

"She rules the yard and keeps everyone else in line," Devine says.

Big and tall

Tatu the giraffe enjoys some romaine lettuce at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.
Tatu the giraffe enjoys some romaine lettuce at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.

One of our favorite things that day happened when Devine fed Tatu, the Masai giraffe, a stalk of lettuce.

We got to see what it's like to stand face-to-face with the gentle giant as he munched on the green stuff ( to schedule your own feeding, call the zoo before your visit).

Tatu, 6, met a new pal last week.

Joshua, the facility’s newest resident giraffe, was born in 2015 and hails from the Houston Zoo where he was trained for voluntary medical behaviors (not unlike Shiska the bobcat).

Before his arrival, keepers at the zoo created an introduction plan to help Tatu and Joshua establish a bond using "howdy points" which are designed to allow the giraffes to greet each other on their own terms.

It's an exciting time for Tatu and his keepers.

HIs companion Murphy, a 20-year-old Masai giraffe, beloved by zoo staff and guests, passed away last May.

Tatu the giraffe grabs a snack from his exhibit at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.
Tatu the giraffe grabs a snack from his exhibit at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.

Making a splash

Perhaps one of the liveliest of the zoo bunch is Luani, a North American River otter.

No matter the weather, you'll spot the nine-year-old flipping and swimming in the water while playfully posing for pics.

His bestie, Naya, passed away in December 2021, and as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, Luani is slated to get a new friend (a date has yet to be determined).

The adorable otter is a football fan (Every Super Bowl the zoo hosts an otter bowl and he predicts who will become the NFL champs by using sardine packed footballs).

For an extra treat, zoogoers can book a private encounter with Luani ($350 for 1 to 6 people) where you throw him his breakfast fish and learn about the species.

Participants also help the keeper prepare his exhibit and tour the zoo before it opens. To commemorate the encounter, guests are given a painting made by Luani to take home.

For an additional fee, private encounters are also available with the giraffes, the racoon, the sloth and the fennec fox.

An otter enjoys a brisk swim on Sunday, April 24, 2022 at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.
An otter enjoys a brisk swim on Sunday, April 24, 2022 at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.

More:Virtual zoo tour: Animals you'll see at zoos across Pennsylvania

Monkeying around

Falling in love comes naturally for Mico and Abby, the zoo's mongoose lemurs.

The cute couple are an "approved breeding pair," and have been together for about two years.

As soon as the zoo completes construction of the Habitat Madagascar (the climate controlled space will provide indoor and outdoor living space for the lemurs and African leopard tortoises), Abby and Mico will hopefully start having babies.

The couple are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan and the major threat facing lemurs in the wild is habitat loss as forests in Madagascar are being cut down to make room for cattle and charcoal production, Devine says.

A picturesque exit

The zoo is located inside the 1,100-acre Trexler Nature Preserve, a picturesque park that offers 18 miles of trails suitable for wildlife observation, bird watching, hiking, walking and mountain biking.

On the way out, just after we drove through "the ford," which is a shallow creek where vehicles must pass to exit, we encountered elk and bison (a baby calf was born to the bison herd in early May).

The herd of bison and elk have been part of the Trexler preserve since the early 1900s when local businessman Harry Trexler, founded the space in an effort to save the animals from extinction by providing a safe place where they could roam undisturbed.

In 1935, the county took ownership of the Preserve and, in 1974, construction began on the 29-acre zoo.

In 2004, Lehigh Valley Zoological Society assumed management of the zoo, as well as taking care of the bison and elk herd.

Of interest:Here are 8 Pennsylvania zoos to visit with your family this summer

If you go

Our excursion lasted a little under two hours, but with an on-site restaurant, gift shop and plenty of space to roam, you can stay as longer.

The zoo also hosts educational programs (camp, zookeeper for the day) and private tours.

Due to the avian flu outbreak, penguins, chickens and other bird exhibits are closed.

Tickets: $14.50 for ages 12 to 64; $13.50 for ages 65 and older; $12.50 for ages 2 to 11; free for children under age 2.

Season passes: $65 (one adult); $95 (two people); $125 (two adults, four children); $175 (three adults, six children)

Membership discounts or benefits: Free admission; 10% discount on birthday parties, camps, animal encounters and purchases in the gift shop and taco stand. Discounted admission to daytime events and the winter light spectacular. Exclusive member-only events and hours and free or discounted admission to other AZA accredited zoos and aquariums.

Hours: Open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, New Year’s Day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 1 to Nov. 7.; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 8 to March 31

Address:  5150 Game Preserve Road, Schnecksville, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 610-799-4171

Website: lvzoo.org

Social media channels: Facebook: Lehigh Valley Zoo; Instagram: @LehighValleyZoo

This article originally appeared on Pocono Record: Giraffes, wolves, otters oh my! Lehigh Valley Zoo is worth the trip