7 Unique African Animals You Can See at San Diego Zoo's Africa Rocks

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Whether you’re a member and frequent visitor of your local zoo, or you haven’t visited since a field trip in grade school, there’s no better time to return than now: the San Diego Zoo’s new Africa Rocks, which unveils acres of African habitats filled with unique animal and plant species, is designed to fill each visitor with a renewed sense of wonder.

The San Diego Zoo’s sprawling Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks introduces six new habitats across eight acres that spotlight the amazing biodiversity found in Africa, ranging from the savanna to the seashore. When it comes to unusual animals, the African penguins are just the beginning. Though when most people think of Africa, they think of the big guys — elephants, giraffes, gorillas, and lions — the Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks exhibits offer so much more: primates, fossas, leopards, and miniature crocodiles, to name just a few!

Best of all, your visit to the San Diego Zoo directly funds wildlife conservation efforts. They are a non-profit conservation organization with active projects on six continents, so while your focus will be on experiencing the amazing animals, you’ll also be supporting an important cause at the same time.

Read on for a sneak preview of seven of the unique animals you’ll meet at Africa Rocks. See you at the Zoo!

1. The Athletic African Penguin

San Diego Zoo

While penguins are typically associated with frozen landscapes, there are penguin species found all throughout the Southern Hemisphere, including the endangered African penguin. The African penguin is distinctive for the bare patches of skin around its eyes and legs, which help to let off heat. But the real action is in the water: the African penguin can stay underwater for up to four minutes and swim at nearly eight miles per hour. At the San Diego Zoo, the African penguins enjoy a 275,000-gallon pool for swimming and diving. Visitors can observe the penguins from above the water and from below via a large underwater viewing window.

2. The Chic Coquerel's Sifaka

San Diego Zoo

Say it with me now: “coc-er-al’s she-fakh.” This is a big, fancy name for these adorable little lemurs who call the Madagascar Forest home. Look for them in the air as they jump from tree to tree at distances of up to 40 feet. Or, if you’re lucky enough to catch them on the ground, you just might see them performing what’s called the “sifaka dance,” where they hold their arms out and hop up and down. The best time to chill with these lemurs is in the morning; as sun worshippers, Coquerel’s sifaka love to bask in the warm light before heading out for a day of foraging.

3. The Ferocious Fossa

San Diego Zoo

While you’re in the Madagascar Forest, be sure to check out the fossa. As a relation of the mongoose, with the face of a dog and the claws and teeth of a cat, this carnivorous mammal cuts a striking figure — complete with a long tail. But if you want to see the fossa, you’ll have to watch closely: these predators travel alone, in silence, and with great speed. If you are able to catch a glimpse of these elusive hunters, they’re sure to leave quite an impression.

4. The Hirsute Hamadryas Baboon

San Diego Zoo

Across the Ethiopian Highlands you’ll find the Hamadryas baboon, a primate whose fierce coiffure is the envy of the species. Built to survive dry, semi-desert environments, these baboons are tough cookies. They also travel in small bands — with family units comprised of up to ten females and their young, led by a dominant male — making them easy to spot in the wild. Watch as these cliff-dwellers scale large rocks to find a place to nap, and then climb back down to search for food. The males of the species are intensely protective; a warning glance from one of them is enough to stop you in your tracks.

5. The Diminutive West African Dwarf Crocodile

San Diego Zoo

When you hear “crocodile,” you probably think of American crocodiles, present in South Florida, whose bodies can total over 10 feet in length. The West African dwarf crocodile is downright adorable by comparison; at five feet in length, it is one of the smallest of the crocodile species. These reptiles call the West African Forest their home, where they forage at night and make a meal of small creatures including crabs, frogs, and snails. But you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to spot these camouflaging creatures: when the sun shines, they just might slide up onto a log to bask, hiding right in plain sight.

6. The Lithe Leopard

San Diego Zoo

Prowling the Acacia Woodland is the leopard, a green-eyed feline at the top of the food chain. You can find them lounging in the branches of a tree, their preferred spot for an afternoon nap, or stealthily stalking prey through the brush. If you do happen to catch one in repose, you’ll have the chance to observe their distinctive spots, called “rosettes,” which form a pattern akin to dappled light, helping to camouflage them as they hide. But don’t be fooled by their fearsome reputation — leopards are in danger of extinction, due to the loss of their natural habitat. The San Diego Zoo is playing an important role in preserving these incredible animals for generations to come.

7. The Mannerly Meerkat

San Diego Zoo

Last but not least, visit the Kopje in Africa Rocks to behold the meerkat in its element. Unlike the lone leopard, the meerkat is highly social, living in cooperative bands that dig, feed, and lounge together. Meerkats even take shifts watching over one another; a designated sentry stands guard while the rest of its band relaxes. Another relative of the mongoose, the meerkat can be found in action digging tunnels that can reach up to six feet deep. Or, if you’re lucky, you can catch the meerkat on its back enjoying a nap in the sun, revealing its cute little belly.

These are just a few of the colorful creatures that await you at the San Diego Zoo’s Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks, designed to shine a spotlight on Africa’s lesser-known — but just as important — species. At Africa Rocks, you’ll see a different side of Africa. And by the time you leave, you’ll already be plotting your return.

This article is sponsored by San Diego Zoo. Visit Africa Rocks at the San Diego Zoo today!

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