ZOOZ (NOW CALLED SAFARI NIAGARA)

ZOOZ changed its name to Safari Niagara, but it still has the same owners and, more importantly, the same animals you’ve always loved.

It’s a zoo. It’s a playground. It’s an outdoor sculpture museum.

zebra, safari niagara

The owners of this animal park seem to have thought of everything when they created this place.

Sculpture in the park

Why else would Safari Niagara in Stevensville, about a 10-minute drive from Niagara Falls Ontario, feature more than 200 steel statues sprinkled through its grounds, even in the animal pens, making this one of the most unusual zoos in Ontario?

Do the animals appreciate art in their “rooms” just like us humans?

Who knows? Maybe they do. We can’t really say for sure, can we? (Have you ever tried to interview a baboon or a lemur?)

The statues were created by local artist Rod Dowling and include abstract renditions of animal forms, human forms and plant forms as well. Although the art is certainly a curiosity and added interest, the real star attractions here remain the amazing animals.

If I Could Talk to the Animals …

ZOOZ is an animal park with a population of more than 400 creatures. Here you’ll find “lions and tigers and bears – oh my!” as well as elk, buffalo, zebra, baboons, lemurs, Canadian lynx, giraffes, wolves, a fox, a pair of wart hogs, a miniature horse, and all kinds of exotic birds including peacocks, African crowned cranes, ostriches, owls, eagles and swans. It’s easy to get so enthralled watching one pair that you might just run out of time before you get to visit the rest.

On our visit my sister and I happened to stop by the baboon cage just as a family fight was breaking out. Mom and dad seemed to be disagreeing over the actions of Junior who was reaching his arm out of the cage to tear up and eat grass blades. Dad didn’t like it one bit, and decided to tell Junior about it. Mom then jumped in to defend her little darling. Mom and dad suddenly began tearing around the cage at each other in a vicious fight that looked (and sounded) like it was going to end in bloodshed. But in a matter of minutes, the pair settled, mom even went back to grooming dad, and it was then that I noticed the tiny baby baboon (much younger than Junior) clinging to the mother’s stomach. How he managed to hang on during this violent fracas I’ll never understand!

You can learn more about how animals act at animal demonstration shows run throughout the day. At one presentation, your kids get a chance to feed leaves to the giraffes from the top of a tall feeding platform. At another you can learn all about birds and “the wonders of flight”. If you want to see a show, I’d recommend going early in the day so you won’t run out of time.

giraffe at Zooz

In fact, it’s best to go in mornings for another reason too. We found that by late afternoon the animals were dozing in the shade if they had trees in their pens, or in their shelters/houses if they didn’t. (Each pen seems to have an enclosure so the animal can get some privacy and protection from the weather).

Which brings me to that one burning question about zoos and about this one in particular: Are the animals at Safari Niagara well-cared for? What would they say if they could speak to us and we could understand?

I’m no expert, but to me most of the animals looked fairly healthy (with the exception of a grey wolf who seemed rather scrawny and upset as he paced about). The grounds of the cages were clean (although many were barren of grass) and the water bowls and food dishes in the cages appeared fresh, at least the ones I could see. I thought many of the cages looked cramped, though, although some had quite a bit of space for the animals to roam around in.

tiger, safari niagara

The tigers and lions definitely need more space. I would have liked to have seen them in larger grounds like the bears have, but with trees. Some of the birds’ cages weren’t terribly big either. I think the birds at Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls have a much better environment.

Playground & other family fun facilities

ZOOZ has a well-equipped playground with slides, swings, climbers, tunnels, bridges and tree huts. In the sandbox we saw kids playing with toy trucks and other items that seem to come with the property. The playground is a really nice addition since the whole place seems geared to younger children, and the playground gives them a place to relax after what could be a tiring though enjoyable stroll around the animals’ pens.

splashpad, zooz

The splash pad looks like great fun and it made me wish I was a kid again. The teeter-totters in the pool have built-in splashers that send water squirting out at your partner as you go up in the air! How cool is that?

Among the other free activities are paddle boats and kites. No need to pay extra to borrow these items.

If you like fishing, you’ll find ponds stocked and ready. You can borrow the park’s equipment but you pay a small fee for bait.

The zoo also runs a series of evening concerts at their ampitheatre every summer (separately priced).

Getting around the park

ZOOZ covers about 110 acres (compare this with the Toronto zoo which is more than 700 acres) so it’s doable in one day. Since it’s a smaller place it’s also usually not as crowded with visitors. As one tripadvisor reviewer said, “We love the fact that the kids don't have to push their way through a crowd to see the animals.”

The Gator Express tram is a great way to tour the park before deciding where to start your fun. It does a loop of about 6 kilometres and you can get a pretty good view of many of the animals right from the tram. We sat in the front of the tram, though, and the speaker there didn’t seem to be working properly, so we missed most of the information.

But all of the animal pens and cages have information panels so you can get your facts there.

The park is wheelchair accessible.

Costs

You can buy a day pass or a seasonal pass. For two day passes for adults we paid less than $40 and that included 2 passes for the tram ($2 each) plus taxes. We saved $3 each on admission by checking for coupons online. Just google ZOOZ and coupons and you should find current vouchers.

crane at Safari Niagara

There are no extra hidden expenses. Even parking is free (a big plus, since everyone I know hates to pay for parking!). Children aged 3 and under are admitted free. You can rent a wagon to cart your children around for $5 a day.

Dining at Zooz

You can buy food at the Zooz snack stand. I imagine the line up must get pretty long on busy days, though. We didn’t buy lunch as we just wanted a cold drink but were pleasantly surprised to see that prices seemed reasonable for a zoo ($6 - $8 for meal combo) and they offered a fat slice of watermelon for $1. Great to see they’re trying to offer some healthy treats.

To save money, you can bring your own lunch and use the picnic area for free. The only problem we found was that the seagulls were horribly aggressive. One even flew feet-first in one poor woman’s salad. Ugh! Too bad they can’t bring in a dog a few times a day to chase the seagulls away. Or hang tin plates ... apparently birds hate the noise. They have an owl on the roof but the seagulls aren’t impressed because they hang out on the roof all around it. In fact I missed getting a shot of one pigeon perched boldly on the owl’s head!

When to GO

From May to October. After that the animals are moved to winter quarters.

Location of ZOOZ

The park is located at 2821 Stevensville Road in Stevensville, a small community in Fort Erie. Their phone numbers are:
(905) 382-9669 (PHONE); (866) 367-9669 (Toll Free)

The zoo is only 10 min from Niagara Falls, really easy to get to, even for me and my sister (who are notorious for getting lost!). It’s about 90-minute to 2 hour drive from Toronto, depending on traffic.

INTERESTING TRIVIA:
Stevensville is the birthplace of James L. Kraft who invented processed cheese.

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