John Ball Zoo

Welcome to the Zoo Insider! 


Join us as we visit our animals and various areas around the Zoo, talk with keepers and more with videos and pictures.

Don’t have access to social media? No worries! All videos will be posted on this webpage and to our YouTube channel.

Bear Enrichment 

We visit the bear habitat with Yogi and Boo Boo as they receive enrichment! We talk about the importance of enrichment for our animals and making enrichment for your own animals (or family members) at home. 

Red Panda Visit

We are visiting the red pandas Wyatt and Wasabi. Just like you, the red pandas prefer to rest for much of the day, but we have compiled some of their funny video highlights from the last year for you to enjoy. 

Do you love Red Pandas? Become a Red Panda Ranger by visiting the Red Panda Network - and “climb” the mountain levels outlined on the Ranger Program form. It's free, educational, and FUN!   

JBZ supported the Red Panda Network in 2019 with funding for 5 herder tents, 5 efficient stoves for herders, and the reforestation of 10+ acres of red panda habitat. The tent and stoves mean herders don't need to use wood from red panda habitat to create their homes or for their daily cooking needs.

Target Training with Ambassador Animal Turnip

This Zoo Insider we are learning about target training. We will be practicing target training with our striped skunk, Turnip. You will learn the importance of target training, how we do it, and how you can do target training at home with your own pet. 

Turnip is an ambassador animal for John Ball Zoo. By going out in the community to places such as classrooms and libraries, ambassador animals help teach the importance of how to appropriately interact with wildlife and about the mission of the Zoo. 

Using positive reinforcement training techniques is great not only for pets but also for training your kids or siblings or partner at home. Ha, ha. But remember, when target training, rewarding the baby steps are really important when establishing behaviors.

We’d love to see you practicing target training with your own pet. Post your videos or pictures below! Or, if you don’t have a pet to train, draw a skunk and post your artwork! 

Plus, in the video watch for movement in the background. The target training is in the chimp’s day room so you can see them checking it out.

Amur tiger visit

Join us as we visit Finn the Amur tiger at John Ball Zoo! Learn more about what amazing animals they are and how we can help protect their wild habitat. 

Since 1900, the wild population of Amur tigers has drastically decreased by over 95%. This is primarily due to habitat loss and poaching. You might be surprised to learn that many products we use in our daily life could be negatively impacting the tiger’s native habitats through products containing unsustainably harvested palm oil. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a leader in the education on the importance of selecting products produced using sustainably harvested palm oil. They even have a cool app that you can download to help you buy products made with sustainable palm oil! Learn more along with a link to the shopping app at

Tigers can be hard to spot in their habitat with unique stripes helping them to camouflage - remember tiger stripes are like their fingerprints, no two are the same. Can you find them in the wilds of your own home or yard? Download our fun printouts that kids can color, cut-out and then hide for each other to try and find. See who can spot the most tigers and discover where they hide the best. If you want an extra challenge, add other animals that share their native habitat to hide as well.

Download the printouts - 
Exercise #1 - tigers only here 
Exercise #2 - multi-animals

Tell us about your adventure and have fun!

Animal Care Update and News

Dr. Ryan Colburn gives an update on how animal care continues at the John Ball Zoo by the keepers and veterinary teams. He also shares some great news on our lesser Madagascar tenrec - Jonah! 

A tenrec looks similar to a hedgehog, which may be a pet that some of you have at home. If you do, we’d love to see a picture of your hedgehog and tell us their name - If you don’t have a hedgehog, draw a picture of the tenrec in the video. She is super cute!

Frogs & Friends Visit

Join us as we visit Frogs & Friends for our next Zoo Insider. Learn about the exhibits, meet our conservation manager Bill Flanagan and hear about his passion for herpetology, and how as spring begins to start listening for frogs out in the wild. 

Visit our website to learn more about FrogWatch USA, a citizen science program that provides individuals, groups, and families the opportunity to learn about wetlands in their communities and report data on the calls of local frogs and toads. We also have fun links to test your frog call knowledge and listening to calls of frogs in Michigan. 

Also, be on the lookout for an upcoming Zoo Insider when Bill goes outside and helps us identify frog calls!


Join Zoo team members Megan and Bill as they go on an adventure tracking a mystery animal who is hibernating on the grounds at John Ball Zoo. Watch to find out which four-legged, reptile they locate! Learn about how telemetry is used to track the reptile, how to measure the environmental variables about the habitat and what you can do to help this reptile. 

Spending time in nature is an important part of conservation! We created a nature scavenger hunt for you to complete on your own or with your quaranteam. See how many items you can find, smell, hear, and feel from this list, and enjoy spending some time outdoors!

Download the scavenger hunt here

Frog Calls

Join Bill Flanagan, conservation manager at John Ball Zoo, as he helps us identify frog calls in the wild! 

Don’t forget to visit the FrogWatch USA page on our website to learn more about becoming a citizen scientist. You can learn how to help these species by reporting data on their calls. You can also find fun links to test your frog call knowledge and listen to calls of Michigan’s frogs.


In this Zoo Insider learn about animal training and its importance. John Ball Zoo's largest resident, Booboo the brown bear, has mastered a number of behaviors with Keeper Julia's help! These behaviors allow Booboo to be an active participant in her own care. By opening her mouth, she can show our vet team her teeth for a dentist check-up. She can even give herself injections when it's time for a routine vaccine (with the help of her keepers, of course)! Watch as Keeper Julia and Booboo practice these behaviors in one of their training sessions.

On your visit this summer to the Zoo, you can learn more about our training tools and techniques at the daily Tools of the Trade Animal Encounters program. This program highlights the tools that John Ball Zoo uses during training and why it's important, along with adaptations that animals use to survive in the wild.

Programs like Tools of the Trade are one of the many educational programs offered by the Zoo. They occur during your visit and also are available in our communities, including libraries and classrooms. Be on the lookout and we encourage you to participate. The Zoo’s educational programs are engaging and fun, while actively learning about wildlife and how you can help in their conservation in the wild.

Ambassador Animals & Meeting Finley

This Zoo Insider Dr. Ryan introduces Finley the opossum. She is one of the newest additions to the John Ball Zoo family! 

As an ambassador animal for John Ball Zoo, Finley will visit the community to places such as classrooms and libraries. Ambassador animals help teach the importance of how to appropriately interact with wildlife and the mission of the Zoo. 

Once the Zoo's normal programming resumes, you can meet Finley and other ambassador animals through our camps, Twilight Tours, and more. Check out the Kids & Family section on our website for more information on the many opportunities to meet and learn about our ambassador animals!

Exhibit Design

Exhibit design is the focus of this Zoo Insider. Every habitat at the Zoo is unique to the animal that calls it home. Join us as we take a closer look at the tiger, red panda, meerkat, and bear habitats to learn about the many elements that go into designing great habitats, while taking into consideration the needs of the animals, zookeepers, and guests alike.

Want to try your hand at making a new animal habitat? First, use your brain! Choose an animal and research what it needs to be happy and healthy - the more you know about their adaptations and natural habitat the better equipped you will be to build a great space. Second, think about what the zookeepers will need to provide the highest quality of care for the animals, including training and safe food delivery. Third, don't forget about the guests. What would you want to do or see at the habitat when you come to visit. And then lastly, build away! The sky's the limit on materials; recyclables, legos, building blocks, whatever you have around the house or in your yard is perfect, with adult permission, of course! 

Exhibit design is also an educational program the Zoo brings to classrooms. We previously visited Jeffers Elementary in Spring Lake and the video includes some of their designs for your creative inspiration! Doing More. Together.

Penguins Tour the Aquarium

We are excited to share this Zoo Insider! Join Rio and Chester as they take a walk through the Zoo’s aquarium with the help of keepers Kristi and Ty, along with our narrator animal care supervisor Jaime.

These two Magellanic penguins visit the sturgeons and the Michigan stream, interact with the other penguins through the glass, check out the kelp forest tank, say ‘hello’ to Kamren the giant pacific octopus, and visit the tide pool. You also learn about Rio and Chester, and the flock of penguins at John Ball Zoo.

Plus, we talk about the importance of making good choices when selecting seafood. Thanks to our Association of Zoos and Aquariums' partner, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that's fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations. Their recommendations indicate which seafood items are Best Choices or Good Alternatives, and which ones you should Avoid.

We encourage you to make the best choices in selecting seafood and their website is a great resource. Healthy seafood choices mean healthy oceans! They also have a great app that helps you choose ocean-friendly seafood at your favorite restaurants and stores.


Zookeepers and wildlife researchers use ethograms to study animal behavior, and you can use them, too! For this Zoo Insider, we'll show you how you can study animal behavior in your own backyard using this simple technique.

Our zookeepers use this technique to become more familiar with our animals and their unique needs. It can help identify if an animal is stressed or injured, and keeping good behavior records is an important part of animal welfare. Wildlife researchers also use ethograms as a way to collect information on wild animals.

If you don’t have an animal to study at home, check out these amazing live webcams from our Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ partner, the San Diego Zoo! Watch as wildlife explore, eat, swing, pounce, groom, and play through their day, and catch all the action for your own ethogram! 

Visit the Resources for Learning page on our website for an easy-to-use ethogram template and instructions you can use at home! We'd love to hear what animal (or family member!) you researched, so leave us a comment below to tell us about your experience.

Nature Learning, Finding Wildlife

This Zoo Insider, we meet Tahlia, an educator for John Ball Zoo. She talks about getting out in nature and exploring. She looks for garter snakes and finds a possible opossum den! 

There is rejuvenating power in the green spaces around us. Exploring nature in your neighborhood park, backyard, or out of your kitchen window can help relieve the stress of these challenging times.  It can be good for nature, too! Learning about animals, plants, and natural spaces is an important part of helping to conserve them. Plus, there are numerous ways that your observations can help scientists. Use these resources to become a citizen scientist! 

iNaturalist is available online and includes a mobile app. You can upload photos of animals and plants and the experts who partner with the platform will help to identify those plants and animals.

Two other great resources -
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has several citizen science projects that you can explore. 

Plus, the Michigan Herp Atlas has catalogs on species of reptiles and amphibians in Michigan that you can check out!  

So get out and enjoy some green spaces today!

Nature Learning, Journaling

This Zoo Insider, we are hanging out with Tahlia to do some nature journaling!

Many explorers, scientists, and naturalists carry a notebook for jotting down observations, drawing sketches of animals or plants they come across, listing trees they climb or taking notes about seasonal changes. Journaling is a tool to connect thoughts, emotions, and ideas. 

You get to decide what you are going to record in your nature journal and how you will record it. If you enjoy drawing and painting, go that route. If you’d rather write down what you are seeing and feeling, that is perfectly fine, too. Take research notes. Write a poem. Sketch a bird. Do whatever inspires you in nature. With any option, be as descriptive as possible and try to open yourself up to see the natural world with excitement and awe. Pay attention to your five senses. What are you seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and sometimes even tasting? 

Journals can be started using a few simple tools: several sheets of loose-leaf paper, a hard writing surface (like a clipboard or cardboard), and a writing utensil. Consider binding papers together with a staple or two, providing multiple pages to use over a period of time. At the start of each journal entry, record the date, time of day, location, and weather (air temperature, wind speed and direction, description of the sky, etc.). 

Keeping a Nature Journal is a great way to stay connected to the natural world. There many online resources that can help you get started, including;

Nature Learning, Trees

We are outside in nature again with Tahlia learning about and discovering how cool and different trees can be even when only a short distance apart. 

Trees have many environmental benefits. They help moderate temperatures by creating a cooling effect that can counteract the heating effect of pavement and buildings. They improve air quality by removing dust and other particles, and release oxygen. Also, trees reduce stormwater runoff and are a great place for wildlife to live. And, let’s not forget how great they are to climb! 

Get outside and explore the trees around you! There are great resources to help you identify trees where you live, including an online tool provided by the Arbor Day Foundation. 

To get even more in-depth with learning, Project Learning Tree is a great resource. PLT is an environmental education program designed for teachers and other educators, parents and community leaders working with youth from preschool through grade 12.

Cool, Not Creepy

This Zoo Insider we meet some of the newest residents at John Ball Zoo, the Giant Cave Cockroaches! These cool, not creepy insects originate from South America and help our ecosystem.  

In the wild, they eat a variety of dead insects, animals, decaying fruit, and guano (bat droppings). While giant cave cockroaches are not household pests, they actually play a key role in the environment. Breaking down organic matter into nutrients for the soil allows plants to grow and animals to thrive.

We have plans for our giant cave cockroaches to become ambassador animals. They will visit the community to help teach the importance of how to appropriately interact with them and other wildlife, while bringing awareness to the mission of John Ball Zoo.

We encourage you to learn more about the many ‘cool, not creepy’ animals that inhabit our planet. Our Association of Zoos and Aquarium partner the San Diego Zoo has a fun ‘cool, not creepy’ page on their website that talks about tarantulas, bats, and others!

Nature Learning, Journaling 2

This Zoo Insider we are back with Tahlia talking about journaling and exploring nature from the ground. 

Our first journaling Zoo Insider found Tahlia up in a tree. This time she talks about journaling and exploring from the ground perspective. From unique insects and fungi under a tree stump to a feather in a tree, you never know what discoveries await you when exploring nature. 

Nature is amazing!

If you haven’t started or are still a beginner, here is a great online resource “Beginner’s Guide to Nature Journaling: 12 Tips For a Better Nature Journal”. There are many great tips and ideas to make your journal unique to you and filled with what you enjoy and hope to learn.

Please note, it is always important to return nature to how you found it and leave only footprints. While not captured in the video, the tree stump was returned back to it’s laid down position. 

Otter Visit and Enrichment

Our pair of North American river otters, Slyde and Chumani, are the highlight of this Zoo Insider. These two are a favorite of many guests, volunteers, and staff alike! 

We learn from animal care supervisor Jaime about the river otter species, and also about Slyde and Chumani’s personalities and what makes them unique and special. 

River otters have a physical shape made for quick swimming, along with long slender bodies, small ears, nostrils that can close underwater, webbed feet, and nictitating membranes (clear eyelids for underwater hunting and navigation). 

Through enrichment, watch as they use these along with their natural hunting and foraging instincts to access the hidden food. It is interesting how each of them does this differently. 

While this species is doing well in the wild, we must maintain clean waterways for their continued success. You can help animals like the river otters by keeping waterways clean. Support conservation programs by participating in local conservation and citizen science efforts like local river and beach clean-ups.

Great Lakes Commission -  

West Michigan Environmental Action Council -

Project Clarity -

Maned Wolf Visit

For this Zoo Insider, we are visiting our maned wolf, Nikko. Since guests might see an ear or a shadow of him because he is often shy to guests, we thought it would be fun to take a closer look at this gorgeous canid.

There are many fun facts about Nikko including how his favorite foods from his diet are peeled banana and mice. He also enjoys batting his food biscuits around before eating. Some of his favorite enrichments are large boxes he can shred, a pile of dry leaves to jump around in, or his favorite food enrichment item is a coconut that he will carry around before eating. He is trained "up" (to get a better look at his underbelly), "paw" (to get used to us touching his feet), and "scale" (to monitor his weight). 

Although Maned wolves are found in South America, Nikko prefers the colder season where he can be heard letting out a "Woof" multiple times a day. 

On your next visit to the Zoo, play ‘Where’s Nikko’ and see if you can spot him. His habitat is on the South American boardwalk up and behind the flamingos.

In the wild, the maned wolf is classified as ‘near threatened’. While they are not threatened in terms of numbers, they are rare geographically in some areas where they used to be plentiful due to habitat loss. 

Your support of John Ball Zoo is making a difference! Whether saving species on the brink of extinction or ensuring species never reach such a precarious state, guests can trust that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos and aquariums, like John Ball Zoo, are working hard to protect wildlife and wild places for future generations to enjoy.

Magellanic Penguin Visit

In celebration of World Penguin Day, this Zoo Insider we are learning more about our flock of Magellanic penguins. 

Jaime, animal care supervisor, narrates this visit to the penguins. Watch as the penguins receive their morning feeding. We learn about how they are fed and the different types of fish they receive. We also learn about breeding, how they monogamously pair, and nest. Have you ever wondered what’s on their wing bands and the purpose? Learn why!

Magellanic penguins are considered "near threatened” and declining in the wild. John Ball Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). The program's goal is to maintain populations that are both genetically diverse and demographically stable. Your support of John Ball Zoo makes our penguin conservation efforts possible. Thank you!

Why not celebrate World Penguin Day and have a penguin kind of day! Dress up in black and white for dinner. Try penguin races where you have to waddle like a penguin. And, of course, don’t forget to find out which family member has the better penguin call.

Also, National Geographic has an interesting and informative page on Magellanic penguins. Check it out to learn more!

Giant Pacific Octopus 

Our next Zoo Insider features a cephalopod that ‘octopies’ the heart of many! We are visiting our giant Pacific octopus, Kamron. 

While guests might find him mysterious because of his keen ability to camouflage and hide, he is a keeper favorite because of his curiosity and intelligence. He often interacts with them and his enrichment. 

We get an up-close view of Kamren including his arms and suckers. Watch as he changes colors while learning how and why he does it! You can even see his mantle (back of his head), which is where his major organs are located. 

As their name suggests, in the wild they live in the Pacific Ocean going as far north as the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, as far south as the Baja California region of Mexico, and as far northeast as Japan.They are the largest species of octopus. 

By having a well-developed sense of vision, this allows them to coordinate the use of all eight arms. They are also the only invertebrate known to use their vision to learn through observation. In the center of their arms, they have a strong beak used to crush their prey. 

While not threatened in the wild, their primary predators are humans due to fishing. They are a good reminder of the importance of making the best choices in seafood. We encourage you to make the best choices in selecting seafood. Healthy seafood choices mean healthy oceans! 

Thanks to our Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) partner, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has an amazing program called Seafood Watch. This program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that's fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations. 

Their recommendations indicate which seafood items are Best Choices or Good Alternatives, and which ones you should Avoid. They even have an awesome app to help you make the best choices when shopping or dining.

Red Panda Training

We are back with Wyatt and Wasabi! 

Keeper Paul talks more in-depth about our amazing red pandas with our first stop outside overlooking their habitat. We learn about their physical differences, their ages, and how they like the cold weather. Their native habitat is the temperate forest areas in Asia. 

Did you know red pandas are not in the same family as the black and white pandas? They actually aren’t even related! Learn why the word ‘panda’ is in their name.

Then we move inside for a training session with Wyatt and animal care supervisor, Jaime. Training sessions help with husbandry and veterinary procedures. When those procedures are needed these training sessions help the animals understand what is expected and makes it less stressful for them. Plus, Wyatt enjoys his training rewards, especially grapes! 

Unfortunately, red pandas are endangered in the wild due to habitat loss and the pet trade. The Red Panda Network is a cool website full of curious facts, amazing videos on how red pandas are being saved in the wild, and how you can get involved in their conservation including becoming a red panda ranger!

With a pillar focused on conservation, JBZ supported the Red Panda Network in 2019 with funding for 5 herder tents, 5 efficient stoves for herders, and the reforestation of 10+ acres of red panda habitat. The tent and stoves mean herders don't need to use wood from red panda habitat to create their homes or for their daily cooking needs.

Turtle Head Starting

This Zoo Insider we talk about our turtle head starting program with Laura, the Zoo’s hospital keeper. Head starting is exactly what it sounds like. We are giving turtles a head start on life!

A common problem faced by turtle populations in North America is the increase in predators, like raccoons. Head starting is a conservation strategy that takes a vulnerable life stage, in this case at the hatchling stage, and raises it in human care until it is less vulnerable. John Ball Zoo has been partnering with researchers at Grand Valley State University and Pierce Cedar Creek Institute (PCCI) to study this strategy with Eastern Box Turtles.

A portion of the wild baby turtles from protected nests were brought to the Zoo for head starting. In the approximately the 9 months that the hatchlings are here, they will grow to be the size of 2-year-old box turtles.

The young turtles will be released at the site of their nest and tracked with radio telemetry. This will allow biologists to compare their survivorship, growth, and behavior to their wild counterparts. It is an important step to evaluating the effectiveness of head starting as a conservation strategy.

Many thanks to our partners, Jen Moore and Paul Keenlance at Grand Valley State University and Matt Dykstra and Ellen Holste at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute. They have been studying this population of turtles and protecting their nests.

One way you can help turtles is to help them across the road in the direction they are going. Our Association of Zoos and Aquariums partner, the Toronto Zoo has a great video to show how to safely help a turtle across the road. 

Important notes to remember; always move the turtle in the direction it is heading, don't move them away from where you found them, don't ever put a snapping turtle in your car, don’t enter or block traffic, and always prioritize your own safety. 

Also, if you haven’t seen it and are interested in learning more about how turtles are tracked, check out the Zoo Insider video on tracking with Bill and Megan. It’s ‘turtlerific”!

Annual Exam, Black-Footed Cat

This Zoo Insider is a Happy Flashback #Caturday!

Just like people, physical exams keep animals at John Ball Zoo healthy. Take a peek into Oscar the black-footed cat’s annual exam from February 2018 with our veterinarian Dr. Ryan Colburn and team.

At the John Ball Zoo, we strive to provide the best possible care to each and every Zoo resident. In addition to the wonderful care our zookeepers provide every day, our animal health team is part of this process as well. Our commissary team provides nutritious diets and our veterinary team takes care of each animal's medical needs.

As part of this, every animal has his or her own customized plan for routine medical exams. These exams allow for our team to listen to the animal's heart, check their joints, clean their teeth, and perform tests like bloodwork, x-rays, and ultrasounds. Changes are all monitored and tracked carefully throughout the animal’s life at the Zoo. These exams are an important part of keeping each animal healthy and happy at the Zoo!

Storybook Time with the Bears

This special Zoo Insider has keeper Julia reading a storybook both to us and the bears Yogi and Booboo!

Eat Like a Bear, written by April Pulley Sayre is an illustrated book that follows a year in the life of bears and the different foods they eat as the seasons' change.

If you would like to add this fun and educational book to your personal library, it is available at Amazon and other online retailers. If you go to and select John Ball Zoo as your charity of choice, a percentage of this and all future purchases will be donated to JBZ!

Go to, sign-in with your Amazon account and select John Ball Zoo as your charity of choice! You can then search for Eat Like a Bear to purchase your copy. 

Or, here’s a direct link - 

Chestnut Cowrie Snail 

Moving slow, say ‘hello’ to one of our chestnut cowrie snails! This Zoo Insider we meet one of the smaller animals in the Zoo family that many guests do not have the opportunity to see.

The chestnut cowrie with its egg-shaped shell colored orange, tan, brown, and white are native to the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. They are part of the gastropod family but what does that mean?? Find out! 

Watch as our chestnut cowrie uses its orange-colored tentacles to smell as it works to locate food. They like green algae so are great cleaners for our tanks. 

Did you know snails have no backbone, and in North America alone there are about 500 native species of land snails? It’s a snail world!! Learn interesting facts about these amazing creatures!

Wood Partridge Target Training

Happy Flashback Friday! Join us for a look back to September 2018 as keeper Maureen does target training with our crested wood partridges!

This training allows them to voluntarily participate in their own care, and is also great enrichment!

New Caledonia Giant Gecko Visit

For this Zoo Insider, we are back visiting with Plop, the New Caledonia giant gecko. 

This species of reptile comes from New Caledonia, an island off the coast of Australia. They have ‘Giant’ in their name because they are one of the largest species of gecko in the world. Pretty cool! 

Their coloring helps them to blend into their surroundings, acting as camouflage. They also have a super grip! With gripping pads on the end of their tail and feet, these adaptations make them a great tree climber and are where they spend most of their time. They also have claws,  which are rare for geckos. 

Plus, they have a unique defense mechanism. They can drop the end of their tail which then can confuse and scare a predator giving the New Caledonia giant gecko time to get away. 

You might not see Plop during a typical visit at the Zoo because he is an Ambassador Animal.  As an ambassador animal for John Ball Zoo, Plop will visit the community to places such as classrooms and libraries teaching the importance of how to appropriately interact with wildlife and the mission of the Zoo.

Why AZA Matters

This Zoo Insider learn ‘Why AZA Matters’. Since 1983, John Ball Zoo has been a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Our AZA accreditation is your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. Of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the USDA across the country, less than 10% are AZA-accredited. AZA is the gold standard among the zoological community.

Collectively, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums make a difference through exceptional animal welfare, meaningful education, and protecting wildlife and wild places regionally and around the world through conservation programs.

John Ball Zoo participates in a number of nationwide AZA conservation and animal management programs, specifically the Species Survival Plan Program (SSP) and Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program. The SSP is one of our most powerful tools in combating extinction. AZA founded the program in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected threatened and endangered species at North American zoos and aquariums.

Learn more about why choosing to support and visit an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium is important.

TripAdvisor’s ‘Why Accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Matters’ 

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Goats and Sheep Visit

This Zoo Insider we visit the goats and sheep! Watch as they enjoy getting enrichment and listen as keeper Veronica gives us an update on them. 

We have three breeds of goats and one breed of sheep: Nubian goats, pygmy goats, a Tennessee fainting goat, and polypay sheep. There are 11 goats and 2 sheep.

Goats are social and by interacting with them at the Zoo we hope you learn how to participate in nature-friendly behavior and be thoughtful while engaging and connecting with nature. 

These cuties are at Red's Hobby Farm and are one of our most popular places at the Zoo. The focus is on domestic animals complete with a traditional red barn.

 Entry Valley Construction Update

We are so excited to share a construction update on the Zoo’s new front entry valley! We are nearing completion and can’t wait to greet you once we are able to open. With a gently curving, inclusively designed pathway, the steep hill guests experienced when first entering the Zoo has been eliminated, and makes the Zoo more accessible for everyone. Additionally, these improvements help our conservation efforts in the collection and reuse of stormwater run-off, and improve our infrastructure as we prepare for future animal habitats.


Rounds with Dr. Ryan 

This Zoo Insider is from last year as we tagged along with our veterinarian, Dr. Ryan, during one of his typical morning rounds. Watch to learn more and find out what it takes to care for the over 2,000 animals at the Zoo.

Managing the health of every single animal here at John Ball Zoo is an enormous task, even during this difficult time. This tenacious dedication to the health and well-being of our animals continues to remain our top priority.

Flamingo Migration

This Zoo Insider, we are joining the flamingos as they travel from their winter indoor habitat to their summer habitat.

With the weather warming up, the flamingos can finally return to their home on the South America Boardwalk. Flamingos in the wild live in temperatures ranging from 64ºF–95ºF, so during winter months, they are moved to an indoor location at the Zoo, where temperatures can be regulated.

Can you guess why flamingos are pink? Listen closely to animal care supervisor Tom’s answer!

Visit to learn how you can sponsor our flamingos here at the Zoo! Your sponsorship dollars go directly towards their care, and you’ll also receive a flamingo plush as a thank you!

Virtual Safari

This Zoo Insider, we are talking about our online educational offering Virtual Safari! Watch and learn about the new program from Rhiannon, the Zoo’s Education program manager, as she talks with Melody from GR Kids. Plus, the river otters Slyde and Chumani make an appearance! 

The Virtual Safaris allows online participants to join John Ball Zoo educators and see the Zoo from an entirely different view. A Zoo educator will be your guide exploring different geographic areas of the Zoo, as well as highlight different ways we care for our amazing animals.

These 30-minute programs include Zoo tours, up-close animal encounters, and interactive presentations. Programs offered every Tuesday and Thursday at 2pm via ZOOM. Each program is only $3 for Zoo members and $5 for non-members!

There is still time to go on a Virtual Safari - register online today! 

Special thanks to GR Kids for allowing us to share your video! Visit for all fun and informative website!

Toco Toucan Visit

This Zoo Insider, we travel over to the Toco Toucan habitat to hear keeper Keith talk about diet, enrichment, new installments in their habitat, how to tell Tilly and Tango apart, and more fun toucan facts! 

Did you know toucans can regulate body heat by adjusting blood flow to their beaks? When they are cold, they sometimes tuck their beak under their feathers to keep them warm.

Say NO to Wildlife Products

Po gives us an important reminder about what we can do to help save endangered species like the Amur Tiger.

Wildlife crime is a multi-billion dollar global industry primarily driven by consumer demand for products made from animal parts. YOU are part of the solution. Say no to the purchase of wildlife products. Remember, poaching steals from us all. 

Thank you to our Association of Zoos & Aquariums partners WildAid and the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance for our joint efforts to put an end to the illegal wildlife trade.

Just for Fun

Enjoy as we take a trip around the Zoo and visit a number of our animals, big and small, fast and slow, cute and unique. But, one of the things they have in common is that they are all amazing in our eyes!

Goodbye, Titan and Welcome, Mabelle!

We are excited to announce that we've welcomed a female Amur tiger named Mabelle. She came to us from the Columbus Zoo. John Ball Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan for the Amur tiger and she is recommended for breeding with our male tiger, Finn. 

Finn’s brother, Titan, went to his new home at the Toledo Zoo where he is recommended for breeding with a female tiger. While we are sad to see Titan leave, we are so excited to see what the future holds for him, Finn, and Mabelle, and excited that he can contribute to the survival of his species. 

Mabelle is a sweet and curious girl and we are eager for you all to meet her when we are able to open for the 2020 season. Welcome to John Ball Zoo, Mabelle!

Chimpanzee Visit

Welcome to another Zoo Insider! Today we are visiting the chimps with keeper Bonnie. We have six chimps residing here at John Ball Zoo, each with their own unique personality. Watch as they munch on some fun snacks, climb on the bridge, and of course - lounge around. 

Although chimps in the wild live far from us here in Grand Rapids, you can still make a difference for this species by recycling your old cell phones. This helps save chimps' natural habitats from being destroyed as a result of mining cobalt, a material commonly used in cell phones.

Hospital Tour with Dr. Ryan

Join Dr. Ryan as he takes you on a tour of the Zoo's animal hospital and learn about all that goes into providing medical care for the nearly 2,000 animals that call the Zoo home!

If you would like to support the Zoo’s important work in saving wildlife and wild places, please consider a gift today -

Eastern Box Turtle Release

Tag along with Conservation Manager, Bill Flanagan, as he takes us through the final stages of our eastern box turtle head starting program! Watch as the turtles get their final health-check from Dr. Ryan before being released to their natural habitat at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute.

See the early part of the program when they were being raised at John Ball Zoo by checking out our Zoo Insider with Laura posted earlier this month here:

Thanks to our research partners at Grand Valley State University and Pierce Cedar Creek Institute (PCCI).

Meerkat and Cape Porcupine Visit

In today’s Zoo Insider we travel over to the new meerkat and cape porcupine habitat with keeper Julia! Meet cape porcupines Rolo and Montu, and meerkats Red and Dustin, as well as learn about these incredible species. Don't miss a curious Dustin pop-up next to Julia to see what all the fuss is about!

Capybara Visit

Tune in for another Zoo Insider as we wander up to the capybara habitat! Did you know that capybaras are the largest rodents in the world? Tag along with Area Curator, Tessa, as she shares some cool facts about the capybara species, and about our capybara here at John Ball Zoo! 

Tapir Visit

Happy International Ungulate Awareness Day! Wait- what’s an “ungulate”? Ungulate is a term for hoofed mammals. As Tessa mentions in today’s Zoo Insider, South American tapirs are what’s called an odd-toed ungulate, meaning they have four toes on their front hooves, and three on their back hooves.

Tapirs are very important to our environment and are listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species. Celebrate International Ungulate Awareness Day by learning about South American Tapirs with Tessa from John Ball Zoo!


Capy/Tapir Introduction

Have you noticed that some of our animals share habitats with different species? In order to make this possible, the two species will go through a detailed process of introductions to one another. In today's Zoo Insider, Tessa talks about the introduction of our capybara and South American tapir!

Canada Lynx Baby News!

We have purr-fect news!!! Cute, bonding, and doing well are how we are describing our baby Canada lynx kitten born May 7th!!!

It was noticed that on the morning of May 7th Thor was outside actively patrolling. As the keepers went inside, they saw that Norrie had given birth overnight. As it can occur in nature, Norrie had given birth to two kittens but unfortunately one had passed away, while the other was nursing and doing well.

Since Norrie is a first-time mom, we will let her and the kitten bond until about 4-6 weeks of age, as long as both keep doing well. This will typically be the first time we will do a neonatal exam, provide the first vaccinations, and be able to see if we have a boy or a girl!

The kitten will stay in the cubbing den until around 5 weeks and will begin weaning around 12 weeks with lactation ending around 5 months. Once the kitten is grown and healthy enough to be outside safely, we hope ultimately for Thor, Norrie and the kitten to all be outside at the same time for guests to see and enjoy.