Photo Safari at the Central Park Zoo

Central Park Zoo entranceOpened in the 1860s, the Central Park Zoo was New York’s first zoo and the nation’s second (the Philadelphia Zoo preceded it in 1859.) Sometimes a source of controversy, the Great Central Park Zoo Escape hoax of 1874–polar bears and Bengal tires reported loose on city streets, oh my!–panicked and angered many New Yorkers. More recently, children’s book And Tango Makes Three, which tells the story of the zoo’s same sex penguin couple, Roy and Silo, drew mixed response. But the zoo continues to gather loyal fans and it’s featured prominently in popular books and shows, including: Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Madagascar & sequels, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures tv series.

Sea Lion Habitat - Central Park Zoo

Inspired by fellow Getaway Maven Malerie’s African photo safari and the proximity of the celebrity-status zoo to our Upper East Side hotel, I decided to tackle wildlife photography a little closer to home. At just 6.5 acres, the zoo was much smaller than I remembered, probably because this time I wasn’t running after an excited toddler.

Sea Lion at Central Park Zoo, one of the first zoos in the USA.

The stars of the zoo, a pair of frisky and preening sea lions, awaited me at a pool in the center of the zoo. It was feeding time, and they couldn’t contain their enthusiasm. One sea lion performed acrobatics as part of an enrichment exercise with the handler.

Sea Lion Enrichment

My best shot of the day was this capture of a sea lion jumping over rocks.

Sea Lion Jump - Central Park Zoo

I was surprised at how many animals were close enough to touch (not that anyone would!) Only a low fence separates onlookers and aspiring wildlife photographers from splashing sea lions, graceful white-naped cranes, climbing snow monkeys, and a frenetic red panda.

White-naped Cranes - Central Park Zoo - New York City Snow Monkey - Central Park Zoo - New York City Red Panda - Central Park Zoo - New York City

I am, however, happy to report that there is a very secure–and clear enough to photograph through–barrier around the grizzly bears.

Grizzly bears - Central Park Zoo - New York Zoo

And as cuddly and adorable as these snow leopards were, I was grateful to be able to capture their image through a transparent window.

Snow Leopard perched on rock - Central Park Zoo - New York City Snow Leopards Playing - Central Park Zoo - New York City Snow Leopard Close Up - Central Park Zoo - New York City

Just the Facts

Zoo entrance located in Central Park at 65th Street & 5th Avenue. Winter Hours: November-March, 10am-4:30 daily; Summer Hours: 10am-5pm weekdays, 10am-5:30pm weekends and holidays. Penguin Feedings: 10:30am & 2:30pm; Sea Lion Feedings: 11:30am, 1:30pm & 3:30pm. Ticket options, zoo map, and a variety of visitor experiences–including Children’s Zoo and 4-D Theater–detailed online at

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In Category: New York, Travel Photos

Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of many cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Nowadays, she stars in her own version of "Where's Waldo?," always in search of sweet treats and grand adventures.

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