15 October 2014
Tagged along with grandchildren on a trip to the zoo…not like your father’s zoo, with iron bars, small cages, housing beasts of boredom…now natural settings…savannah, jungle, rocky crags, tree tops, river bottoms. First up, the giraffes, for us a gentle transition to the “wild” world. Never realized the resemblance of a giraffe to a camel, head-wise. Both have smallish heads with looks that betray little in common with intelligence. Next, bears, one turned his back on the onlookers, draped his bum at the edge of a moat, separating the bears from us…and pooped. A camel with an up-scoop neck like a sink drain, stretching horizontally, flat head, silly grin and half-lidded eyes with riders in a sedan chair on his back looped slowly around a corral…and pooped. And next to the camel ride is a plaza with tables and benches and concession stands, where we visitors can enjoy burgers, fries and ice cream dots, while camels chew on whatever distracts them from the endless slow-walk around the oval. A peacock roaming, pecking, covetously eyed a pretzel held by a child in a stroller…a rival for food smaller than he. The peacock backed off.
A silverback in a fashioned jungle habitat…with a misting machine to give the proper atmospherics…sat on a fallen tree trunk, back to us…we, imprisoned behind the looking glass…as he contemplated the affairs of his realm, scratching a bit, as gorillas do…small ears, some onlookers knocking on the glass to get his attention to turn around and accept the waves of us 10-minute anthropologists. He has seen our kind before and no doubt is plotting his escape to freedom in the lush flora of the Botanical Gardens across Pelham Parkway. Another monkey sits alone on a rocky ledge, wearing a look of great guilt and seemingly ostracized, the non-verbal ways species have to maintain social comity.
There is a monorail ride, Wild Asia, through expanses penned off for various creatures of the Asian plains which turns out to be 100 feet from the Bronx River Parkway and the in-your-face reality of urban density. Elephants, exercising the 40,000 muscles in their trunks…pachyderms in the “wild”…slow-chew 200 pounds of grasses a day. A lounging tiger, alone on his acre, lazy from eating 40 pounds of meat at a sitting (the equivalent of 160 hamburgers) we are told by the cheery, microphoned Mistress of the Monorail. There was a rhino on his open preserve out of his wallow, perhaps sniffing the air for poachers, but likely disoriented by the smell of nearby exhaust. The rhino weighs in at 3500 pounds and once they get legs churning can run 30 mph. Oddly, they could easily plow through the chicken wire fences that separate the species, but don’t.
This is obviously better than the old zoos, when elephants stuck their trunks beyond the heavy wrought-iron bars to vacuum up handfuls of peanuts offered by visitors. These are happier 10,000 pound beasts, mud-gray and an odd juxtaposition (along with the other animals), being in the Bronx next to the subway, Fordham University, Arthur Avenue (we humans have to eat, too) and swirling humanity.
Then, of course, there are the reptiles and thoughts of the cobra that escaped a few years ago and remained on the loose until its heralded recapture. Who are these zoo keepers, going out to wrangle an escaped cobra? My instincts differ slightly from theirs.