Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

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Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
PDZA Entrance.jpg
The entrance to PDZA
Date opened1905[1]
LocationTacoma, Washington, US
Coordinates47°18′17″N 122°31′15″W / 47.3048°N 122.5207°W / 47.3048; -122.5207Coordinates: 47°18′17″N 122°31′15″W / 47.3048°N 122.5207°W / 47.3048; -122.5207
Land area27 acres (11 ha)[2]
Annual visitors732,000 (2015)[3]
Major exhibitsKid's Zone, Arctic Tundra, Rocky Shores, Asian Forest Sanctuary, Aquariums[5]

The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) is a combined zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden located in Tacoma, Washington, US, owned by Metro Parks Tacoma. Situated on 29 acres (12 ha) in Tacoma's Point Defiance Park, the zoo and aquarium are home to over 9,000 specimens representing 367 animal species. The zoo was founded in 1905; the aquarium was founded in 1935 near Commencement Bay and relocated within the zoo in 1963.[1] Both are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.[4]


The Zoo was founded in 1905, and moved closer to its current location in 1914. The Point Defiance Park Aquarium opened on the waterfront in 1936 as an entity separate from the zoo.[6]

By the late 1940s, several Zoo buildings were in disrepair and had to be rebuilt. The 36-year-old animal house was demolished and a new one with sandstone walls and 3/4-inch-thick viewing windows was built in its place. It housed some big cats and white-cheeked gibbons.[6]

In the 1960s, the Point Defiance Park Aquarium had been incorporated into the Zoo. A new aquarium, now known as the North Pacific Aquarium, was built on Zoo grounds in 1963. The North Pacific Aquarium closed in 2018 with the opening of the Pacific Seas Aquarium.[6] By the end of the decade, a breeding program was begun for red wolves, which had been declared an endangered species in 1967.

Turn-of-the-century cages were deteriorating again in the early 1970s. After a $7 million bond measure was passed in 1977, the Zoo opened the Arctic Tundra complex in 1981 and the Rocky Shores area in 1982. With a smaller bond passed in 1986, the South Pacific Aquarium was built and then opened in 1989.[6]

The Zoo experienced financial trouble in the 1990s, culminating in the probation of its AZA accreditation in 1999. Another bond, passed in that year, and a local sales tax increase shored up funds for improvements. With over $35 million at its disposal, the Zoo built a new animal hospital, an outdoor animal theater, Asian Forest Sanctuary, much of the Kids' Zone children's zoo, and a renovated entrance.[6]

In 2008, an addition to Kids' Zone, Animal Avenue, was opened. The red wolf exhibit was renovated and re-opened in 2010, and a clouded leopard exhibit called Cats of the Canopy opened on August 27, 2011.[7]

360° Panorama of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.


The exhibits reflect the zoo's theme of ecosystems from the Pacific rim:[8] Southeast Asia, the Pacific Northwest, the tundra, and aquatic environments.

A tiger at the top of a waterfall in Asian Forest Sanctuary
Asian Forest Sanctuary

This 5 acre (2.0 ha) exhibit complex which opened on July 1, 2004[6] simulates the forests of southeast Asia with a waterfall, streams, and plants native to the region such as bamboo.[9] The complex is designed so that species are rotated to different parts of the exhibit after several days.[6] Asian Forest Sanctuary includes Sumatran tigers, Malayan tigers, northern white-cheeked gibbons, siamangs, lowland anoas, Indian crested porcupines, Asian small-clawed otters, and Asian elephants.[9]

An expansion called Cats of the Canopy opened on August 27, 2011 and focuses on the clouded leopard. Viewing is provided by a wide glass window along a gravelly stream bed and into a heated den. The twenty-foot high enclosure also allows the cats to climb through the trees.[10]

An unnamed endangered male Malayan tapir was born on July 12, 2019.[11]

Rocky Shores

Completed in 1982,[2] this exhibit is based on the shoreline of Cape Flattery, Washington and serves as home to harbor seals, Pacific walruses, sea otters, common murres and tufted puffins in four separate pools. In the middle of the exhibit area is a building for underwater viewing. The exhibit formerly contained beluga whales until they were taken to a zoo in Texas in 2007.

Arctic Tundra

1981 saw the opening of this exhibit area, which forms a semicircle at one end of the zoo. Muskoxen and reindeer are housed in separate meadows on the outside of the pathway's arc, while polar bears and Arctic foxes live on the inside of the arc. The polar bears have an eleven-foot-deep pool with above- and underwater viewing.[12]

The Aquariums

The North Pacific Aquarium and South Pacific Aquarium each house species from different parts of the Pacific Ocean. The North Pacific Aquarium, opened in 1963, displays species from the nearby Puget Sound such as rockfish, bay pipefish, and the giant Pacific octopus.[13] The 1989-era South Pacific Aquarium simulates tropical Pacific environments, with two coral reef tanks and a lagoon exhibit. The lagoon has small fish and eels, while the 250,000-US-gallon (950,000 l) Outer Reef tank has nurse sharks, blacktip reef sharks, and four other shark species.[13]

In September 2018, the North Pacific aquarium was replaced by the new Pacific seas aquarium. This new exhibit displays species originating from the Pacific ocean in general. The centerpiece of the new aquarium will be a 280,000-US-gallon (1,100,000 l) exhibit replicating "Baja Bay", featuring Scalloped hammerheads, Spotted eagle rays and green sea turtles. Other highlights include a 10,000-US-gallon (38,000 l) Puget sound exhibit, a kelp forest exhibit, cold water invertebrate touch tank, jellyfish globe and kreisels, a schooling fish exhibit, Giant Pacific Octopus and Japanese spider crabs. The Pacific Seas Aquarium was built with the latest green life support system technology and includes a rainwater capture system for use in non potable water supplies.

Red Wolf Woods

The habitat was rebuilt in 2009 and opened again in the summer of 2010.[14] The exhibit consists of two separate meadows with a rocky creek, hollow log, and other landscaping.[15] The conservation center is designed to look like an abandoned farm building.

Kids' Zone

A number of animals are present including African pygmy goats, black-breasted leaf turtles, giant African millipedes, gopher snakes, green-crested basilisks, guinea pigs, sheep, Nigerian dwarf goats, northern pygmy owls, ocellated rays, Parma wallabies, poison dart frogs, rabbits, rats, and tiger rat snakes. There are also play structures and a petting zoo.

Animal Avenue, a children's zoo expansion, includes meerkats, ring-tailed lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs, black lemurs, Damaraland mole rats, Antilles pink-toed tree spiders, emerald tree boas, green tree pythons, western Bell's hinge-back tortoises, pancake tortoises, ornate horned frogs, White's tree frogs, hourglass tree frogs, long-legged desert ants, emperor scorpions, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, African cichlids and budgies.

Blooming Kniphofia with a monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana)

Botanical Garden

The certified Point Defiance Zoo Botanical Garden displays a collection of a variety of bamboos (over 50 species), massive meadows filled with Lobelia tupa, fragrant perennials to attract pollinators, and many varieties of trees and shrubs planted throughout the grounds. The collection boasts a variety of flora from the Baja Peninsula, the Southern Hemisphere, Alaskan landscape, plants from South Eastern United States, wildflowers, desert garden, Asian Forest Sanctuary, and the Native Northwest. The landscaping was developed in an effort to share how and why animals, plants, and people need to coexist. The Zoo is home to hundreds of varieties of plants from decorative to functional, and also provides botanical garden tours monthly by the Zoo Horticulturist.

Other exhibits

Unincorporated exhibits include an artificial tide pool and a Magellanic penguin habitat.

Beluga whales[edit]

The zoo used to house beluga whales. In March 2009 one of the two belugas, Qannik, died of a blood infection.[16] Beethoven, Qannik's tankmate, was sent to SeaWorld, San Antonio, on 5 June 2009.[17] Beethoven's brother, Turner, died three years earlier on 7 September 2006 of chronic liver failure, which resulted in Qannik being brought to the zoo in June 2007, soon after Beethoven had recovered from a severe infection.[18]

A previous couple of belugas, Millie and Christy, died almost in unison in 2000. Mauyak was sent to Shedd Aquarium in 1997 for breeding, where she gave birth not only to Qannik but also to Miki, who is now 2 years old.

It's unknown yet if there will be new belugas since Beethoven's departure, and none are scheduled to arrive any time in the foreseeable future, and Rocky Shores now houses harbor seals where belugas used to swim.


One focus of the zoo's conservation work is the red wolf. Beginning in 1969, the zoo collected wild red wolves and successfully bred them for the first time in 1977.[19] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had removed the last fourteen wolves from the wild by 1980, and in 1984 the zoo received approval from the AZA to start a Species Survival Plan.[20] By 1987 the number of red wolves in captivity was large enough to release some of them back into the wild.[21] Reintroduced wolves continue to survive and breed in the wild, and by 2002 the world population was 175 in captivity and about 100 in the wild. One of the biggest threats to the wild population is coyote-wolf hybridization.[22]


  1. ^ a b "Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium History". pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Whales, walruses, more parking – but no Asian elephants – in Tacoma zoo's future". thenewstribune.com. The News Tribune. 3 July 2011.[dead link]
  3. ^ Glenn, Stacia. "Point Defiance Zoo sets attendance record". The News Tribune. Archived from the original on 28 February 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". aza.org. AZA. Retrieved 28 May 2010.
  5. ^ "Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Map" (PDF). pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-05-24. Retrieved 28 May 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g 100 Years at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. 2005
  7. ^ "unknown". Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  8. ^ "Animals & Exhibits". pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  9. ^ a b "Asian Forest Sanctuary". pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  10. ^ "Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Clouded Leopard Exhibit". jsdesignstudio.net. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  11. ^ It’s a boy! Endangered tapir gives birth at Tacoma zoo by Siandhara Bonnet, The News Tribune, July 16, 2019
  12. ^ "Arctic Tundra". pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Aquariums". pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved July 29, 2011.
  14. ^ "Red Wolves". pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2010.
  15. ^ "Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Red Wolf Exhibit". jsdesignstudio.net. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  16. ^ "Point Defiance Zoo's beluga whale dies after infection". seattletimes.nwsource.com. Seattle Times. 30 March 2009. Archived from the original on 2 April 2009.
  17. ^ Mayfield, Travis (22 April 2009). "Pt. Defiance Zoo Sending Away Their Last Beluga". komonews.com. Fisher Communications, Inc. Archived from the original on 26 April 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  18. ^ "Beethoven gets a new buddy" (PDF). pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. 10 June 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-18. Retrieved 28 May 2010.
  19. ^ "Endangered Red Wolves" (PDF). fws.gov. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. October 1997. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2010-05-27. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  20. ^ "Red Wolf Conservation". pdza.org. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  21. ^ "The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan". fieldtripearth.org. North Carolina Zoo Society. Archived from the original on 27 September 2006. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  22. ^ Kelly BT, Beyer A, Phillips MK (2008). "Canis rufus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2008: e.T3747A10057394. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T3747A10057394.en. Retrieved 12 January 2018. Database entry includes justification for why this species is critically endangered.

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