You don’t have to travel to the remote jungles of South America to experience the brilliance of flashing feathers and the cackles of exotic bird life. It may be surprising, but a fantastic array of creatures without fins or gills can be found at Salt Lake's Loveland Living Planet Aquarium. And of course, there are plenty of sharks, penguins, and other aquatic animals waiting your visit.

Lately, the Living Planet has been busy putting the finishing touches on a large new aviary for their South American toucans in an attempt to successfully breed them. Two Keel-billed Toucans have just joined the aquarium’s resident Swainson’s Toucans in the newly-constructed aviary. Breeding toucans in captivity can be difficult, as they need at least 16 feet of vertical height to breed and nest. With its looming 24 foot walls, the new enclosure should provide the toucans ample space to breed.

The Keel-billed Toucans and the Swainson’s Toucans are both part of a Species Survival Plan program overseen by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums. By crafting a new, taller aviary and participating in this program, the Living Planet is helping to enhance conservation efforts of toucan species in the wild.

Watching the colorful toucans provides endless entertainment. They are charismatic with a dash of cheekiness that is irresistible to observe. With over 21 years of experience, Scott Chambers, the resident Curator of Mammals and Birds, explains how the process of successfully breeding toucans is an exercise in trial and error. The aquarium is dedicated to the success of the program, and the new aviary will give the toucans a far better shot at successfully reproducing and nesting.

The toucans are just a small slice of the frenetic action contained within the South American gallery. The mammoth Electric Eel is sure to mesmerize, along with the accompanying exhibit where you can experience a small fraction of the shock an Electric Eel can deliver. YOWCH! Stingrays, free-flying birds, reptiles, and the absolutely incredible River Giants aquarium will keep you and the family busy for some time. Just know that several more exhibits await discovery!

Upon arriving, take a moment to check the daily schedule for the Living Planet. Missing the stingray or penguin feeds would be a shame. From there you can chart your course through the Antarctic Adventure, Expedition: Asia, the Ocean Explorer Gallery, or the Discover Utah exhibit.

After spending a serious amount of time admiring the Toucans and the behemoth Arapaima fish, a native Amazonian freshwater fish that can reach up to 15 feet in length, I was ready to resume wandering.  The Discover Utah Gallery delivered info about creatures you may encounter here in Utah.

The mottled shells of the slow-moving Desert Tortoises were quite the contrast to the playful shenanigans of the North American River Otters. After the excitement of the otters, the sea jellies of the Antarctic Adventure provided a hypnotic show.

It is here in the Antarctic that you can take your aquarium visit to an incredible high: participating in a Penguin Encounter. For an additional fee, patrons can journey behind the scenes to interact with the Gentoo Penguins and learn more about their behavior and natural history from aquarium staff. I could hardly contain myself meeting these Gentoo Penguins face to face. It’s a special experience I won’t soon forget, though I highly recommend wearing sturdy shoes!

No visit to the aquarium is complete without taking a moment to admire the Clouded Leopards and their neighbors, the otherworldly Binturongs in Expedition: Asia. Also known as Bear Cats, Binturongs emit a scent to mark their territory that smells exactly like buttered popcorn!

Saving the best for last, the 40-foot long, circular shark tunnel is a surreal peek into the lives of pelagic sharks in the open ocean. Many varieties of sharks sail overhead in this enormous tank. Bonus points if you can spot the highly camouflaged Giant Pacific Octopus. The huge diversity of creatures on display at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium offers up an opportunity to learn more about animals living in our own backyard or halfway across the globe.

Dedicated to environmental stewardship, the Living Planet is a place where exploring, discovering, and learning about earth’s ecosystems takes center stage.