Walking through the main gates at Potawatomi Zoo reveals a sanctuary for nature lovers.
Wallabies hop across open, grassy spaces. Spider monkeys move gracefully from tree to tree. Okapi enjoy a delicious helping of leaves. Lions roar. River otters splash around. Kookaburra laugh. Sights and sounds abound in a family friendly environment.
And they can be experienced with ease. The zoo is located just three miles from downtown South Bend and four from Mishawaka.
Did You Know? Amur tiger claws are more than three inches long and retract when not in use.
The Gift of Lights
Every year during the holiday season, the zoo puts on a special holiday lights event. Thousands of lights decorate the zoo, making beautiful displays. It’s a unique way to explore the grounds during a wonderful time of year.
The zoo is open 5-9 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 29-Dec. 22 during The Gift of Lights. Visitors can grab hot chocolate, coffee and snacks at the Congo Café and seasonal adult beverages at other locations.
And don’t forget: The Polar Zoo Train will be up and running as weather permits.
Inside the Zoo
Established in 1902 as a duck pond at Leeper Park, Potawatomi Zoo is Indiana’s first zoo. It’s home to over 500 animals — kangaroo, red pandas, snow leopards, hyena, warthog, emus, flamingos and more.
Start your visit with a trip to the Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers. These beautiful cats have a pale orange coloring to them with brown (not black) stripes. When you walk by you may see them cooling off in the pool. They love water.
Stay in the big cat category by walking next to the African lions. The lion is the king of the jungle and the African lion is the king of the zoo.
Male lions can weigh up to 550 pounds and females up to 400. Despite their weight, they have quick reflexes and can reach speeds of 36 miles per hour. When these lions roar, you can hear them from wherever you are in the zoo or even the surrounding community.
Did You Know? African lions eat a lot. Males require 15 pounds of meat daily. Females need 11 pounds of meat per day.
No trip to the zoo is complete without saying hello to the okapi, an endangered species from Africa that moved into the zoo in 2017.
Their white-and-black striped hindquarters and front legs would make you think they are closely related to a zebra. That’s not the case. They’re related to the giraffe. Perhaps you’ll notice the upright ears and long tongue. Okapi use their tongue to strip leaves and buds from brush and trees for food just like a giraffe.
Potawatomi Zoo is the only zoo in Indiana and Michigan that features an okapi.
Did You Know? The Okapi’s tongue ranges from 14 to 18 inches in length.
Right near the Okapi, you can find one of its newest neighbors. The zoo in the fall of 2019 welcomed a male white rhinoceros named Masamba, who came from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Did You Know? There are fewer than 30,000 wild rhinos across five subspecies in Africa and Asia.
While You’re Here
Be sure to visit the farm area of the zoo. There you can feed goats and alpacas. Watch the North American river otter glide under water. And listen to the yellow-crested cockatoo talk about what a pretty bird it is.
Hop on the Zoo Train and you’ll see many animals on site and, before you leave, take a ride on the hand-crafted and hand-painted Endangered Species Carousel. Cap off your trip by riding one of the 18 unique animals including a zebra, lion, leopard and tortoise.
One more thing: Did you know brews are available at the zoo? True story. Beer and wine are available whenever the zoo is open. Plus, there are special events where local and regional craft breweries and wineries come in to pour samples.