Most camps offer arts and crafts, nature walks and canoeing, but only one lets kids get up close and personal with their favorite wildlife; Camp Zoo at the Phoenix Zoo, which opens up again this summer.

"Camp Zoo offers a fun and unique learning experience for kids," said Dean Watanabe, director of Camp Zoo. "They get a real behind-the-scenes look at how the animals are cared for."

The program, available to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is broken up into eight-week-long sessions from June 6 to July 29.

Campers are able take part in training and feeding the animals, as well as planned activities and games, Watanabe said. There is something for everyone whether they are kindergarteners or middle-schoolers. Staff members make sure every camper has the best time learning about the inner workings of the Phoenix Zoo.

All activities offered at Camp Zoo are specific to different age groups. Younger kids are introduced to smaller animals and basic care giving activities and games.

"They won't be training with dangerous animals but they'll still be learning a lot at a more appropriate level," Watanabe said.

Older campers get to explore zoo careers and animal training along with more advanced activities that allow them to really learn what it takes to work in the zoo.

"This is the only camp of its kind in the Valley," said Linda Hardwick, public relations and marketing manager for the zoo. "We basically have the zoo to ourselves during the summer and the kids love to just explore everything."

Being that it is Arizona; activities are tailored to the extreme temperatures. Outdoor activities take place earlier in the day to take advantage of the cooler temperatures while indoor games and lessons are provided when the afternoon heats up.

Students can choose from full-day sessions, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., or half-day sessions, from 8 a.m. to noon. Kindergarteners can only attend half-day sessions and seventh- and eighth-graders are only eligible for the full-day sessions. Full-day sessions are $250 for zoo members and $275 for non-members. The half-day sessions are offered at $150 for zoo members and $170 for non-members.

"What really sets us apart is the quality of the experience," Watanabe said. "We have this amazing environment to work with and we want every camper to walk away having had the time of their lives."

To register for Camp Zoo or to learn more about the Phoenix Zoo, go to and click on "Camp Zoo" in the events section.

• Vanja Veric is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a freshman at Arizona State University.


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