John Ball Zoo

Close Encounters

Have you ever wanted to feed a bear or penguin or see a chimp training session? How about holding an owl or a snake? Join our keepers for one of these unique experiences listed below. 

Prices and requirements vary per program.  Admission is NOT included in price. 

Advance Registration required. Footwear that fully encloses the foot is required – no sandals, flip-flops or similar footwear. No photos can be taken behind the scenes.  Sorry these encounters are not ADA accessible.

Many experiences are available year round- time and date restrictions apply. Please call (616) 336-4300 for available dates.

Red Panda Encounter - NEW!

Available Tuesday, Saturday, or Sunday,  30 minutes prior to opening

BRAND NEW FOR FALL 2019. Get up close with our red pandas! During this encounter, you will have the opportunity to step inside the red panda's indoor habitat with Wyatt or Wasabi and have them eat out of your hand. You may even be able to touch them gently on the back!* It is an experience you will never forget. Encounter includes a digital souvenir photo for you to share with your friends and family.

              Price: $250 per person (maximum of 2 participants). Includes zoo admission. 

               *Due to the nature of the experience, a maximum of 2 people are allowed on this encounter however others may view the encounter from the viewing window. An encounter with a specific red panda is not guaranteed. Feeding and touching the animals is determined by the comfort of the animals and the discretion of animal care staff. 

               Minimum age:  8 years old (children 12 and under must be accompanied by a paying adult)       

Brown Bear 

Available Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday, 30 minutes prior to opening 

Now is your chance to feed the bears! Start your day off by stepping into the bear habitat to disperse their morning diet and enrichment.   Talk to the Zookeeper who takes care of them and get a chance to see the bears’ behind the scenes area.  

                 Price: $50 per person (Min 2 participants, max 6)
                 Minimum age:  6 years old (children 12 and under must be accompanied by a paying adult)


Available Thursday or Saturday, 12 pm or 1 pm

It takes a special level of care to manage a troop of chimpanzees. Get an up-close look behind-the-scenes, see the overnight housing and watch a training session with one of the chimps. One of our keepers will demonstrate how this training is important for maintaining chimpanzee health on a daily basis.  

               Price: $50 per person (Min 2 participants, max 6)
               Minimum age:  6 years old (children 12 and under must be accompanied by a paying adult)         

Ambassador Animal

Available Monday, Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday, 1pm

Parrots, snakes, owls, and opossums are just a few animals you will meet during our ambassador animal experience. Work with one of our zookeepers to see where our program animals live and get the opportunity to learn how to properly handle up to 3 of them.

               Price: $50 per person (Minimum 2 participants, max 4)
               Minimum age:  8 years old (children 12 and under must be accompanied by a paying adult)

Under the Sea Tour with Penguin Encounter 

Venture onto the penguin deck with a zookeeper to feed the penguins! Learn what we do daily to care for the fish, penguins, sharks and marine invertebrates that you see on exhibit. You will also have an opportunity to touch a sea star and an urchin while behind the scenes. 

               Price: $150 per person (Due to the nature of the exhibit only one person is allowed on this encounter however  others may be a part of the Under the Sea Sneak-a-peak tour portion.) 
               Minimum age: 13 years old
               Availability:  10 am or 3 pm  TH, SAT, or SUN 
                        Limited Availability during Sept-Oct
                        Unavailable April-June
                        We are unable to offer these during penguin molting or when there are eggs or chicks on exhibit.  


All encounters are subject to availability and animal consideration. 

Questions?     Call 616-336-4300      Email