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Cougar Mountain: The Little Zoo with Big Attractions

Courtesy of Cougar Mountain Zoo

There are advantages to going to the Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah, even though it is much smaller than the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle or Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. You can easily visit Cougar Mountain's ten "worlds" in a couple of hours – a plus with little ones who may get burned out well before they've seen everything. You see the animals up close and personal. And on the day we visited, there were zoo educators and interns everywhere, eager to answer questions and share interesting facts.

This compact zoo showcases just 10 animals: tigers, cougars, lemurs, reindeer, emus, wallabies, alpacas, mule deer, cranes and macaws.

Cougar Mountain has four male Bengal tigers, two of them white and two golden. Follow the trail to the upper viewing area to see the two adult tigers closer than you'll see them in any other local zoo. The "cubs" in the lower viewing area were a bit of a disappointment on our recent visit. At more than a year old and 300 lbs., they did not play, but sat in their cages. As soon as it warms up this summer, the waterfall and tanks in the tigers' open areas will be filled, and visitors should see more playing and movement, the keepers said.

Enrichment activities and mini-lectures are held throughout the day, and we were able to see the cougar lick on a huge blood-popsicle (yum!) We watched the acrobatic antics of three types of critically endangered Madagascan lemurs up close. The largest Siberian reindeer herd in the country grazes on a hillside; both sexes have antlers, and they're huge.

The Magic Forest area has an assortment of bronze animal statues. You aren't allowed to climb on them, but kids can clamber over the rocks. The forest area is bordered by emus, wallabies, alpacas and mule deer. You can buy pellets of food to feed to the deer or alpacas. The deer could not have been less interested, but the friendly alpacas – comical with their huge under bites and lack of top teeth – gobbled them up.

There are two types of graceful, beautiful cranes and a variety of macaws and parrots in a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors. Keepers carry some of the birds around during the day or present a show in the Wildlife Theater. However, my friends' 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son stuck their fingers in their ears and cried because of the raucous noise.

One downside to the current zoo layout: signs point to cheetahs and other exhibits that are slated for the future – if you follow the paths you'll find nothing but bare dirt.

The Mountain Lion Plaza is a great place for a picnic – bring your own, as there's only ice cream and other snacks at the gift shop. A gallery/museum next to the small gift shop features a large number of beautifully stuffed animals and birds. Even though they were obviously not killed by the zoo, seeing the animals dead and stuffed may be upsetting to some children.

Most of the animals at Cougar Mountain, including the tigers and lemurs, are endangered, and the educational message of preserving our wild neighbors permeates the exhibits of this big little zoo.



Where: 19525 S.E. 54th St., Issaquah

When: January through November, Wednesday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On other days, the zoo is available for guided tours and birthday parties by reservation only. December hours: December 1 through 23 (Reindeer Festival) daily, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; December 26 through 30, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission: Adults and teens $10.50, children (2 to 12) $8, children under 2 free. Free parking.

Contact: 425-391-5508; www.cougarmountainzoo.org.

Wenda Reed is a Seattle-area writer.

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