I have always loved zoos. Whenever I travel I try to check one out. The best one I’ve ever seen, and will probably ever see, is the one in San Diego. The one in Washington DC is pretty amazing as well. (I used to know someone who lived nearby and you could hear the lions roaring from her balcony.) Jacksonville, Florida’s is pretty good, too. But I have to say that the Woodland Park Zoo here in Seattle is a delight.
I was there on a chilly November Monday and it was jam packed with people, particularly people of the toddler persuasion, unfortunately. Being alone, I got to explore at my own pace. I lingered for a long time with the elephants, especially one that seemed to be dancing along to a metronome sound.
The hippos were particularly playful, and when they roar they sound like tractors. The zebras were chasing the giraffes. I don’t know how they pull it off, but when giraffes run, they look simultaneously graceful and clumsy.
This zoo has clearly put a lot of thought into the way they house their animals, giving the visitors many angles for observation and yet giving the creatures ample opportunity for privacy as well. I kept having shockingly close encounters with unexpected beasts. I came around the corner and was face to face with a bear.
The pack of white wolves seemed completely unperturbed that I was a mere 10 feet away.
The gorillas were a hoot. I could imagine their conversation. “Look! I’m sticking my tongue out at the hairless apes!” “Well, I’m going to steal the show by putting a towel on my head.”
And this is the first zoo I’ve ever been to where the orangutans weren’t sitting alone in a darkened room, looking profoundly depressed. These two were romping around playing with a cardboard box, having a wonderful time. I couldn’t get a good picture of it, unfortunately, but it gave me hope about the treatment of the animals at this facility.
I know the whole zoo concept is controversial. I will never go to a circus again because of the horrible treatment of the animals. And yes, animals are meant to roam free. But that’s not the world we’re living in anymore. With our ever shrinking habitats, sometimes zoos are the only way to preserve a species. Also, if you educate people about animals, I really do believe they will treat them and the planet with more respect.
I hope the days of nightmare zoos are gone. I passed by one in Berlin in the 80’s, before the wall came down. It made me cry. It was just tiny little iron-barred enclosures with concrete floors. No shelter, no comfort, no room to move. All the animals looked sick and defeated. It broke my heart. In all fairness, from what I’m seeing on line, the Berlin zoo of today looks fabulous.
The animals here in Seattle seemed very healthy and were provided with a lot of variety to keep them engaged. For Halloween, many were given pumpkins to play with and crush and eat. Apparently the wild cats will be given turkeys (not live ones) to eat around thanksgiving. They’re calling it the Turkey Toss. And there’s another event called Wild Lights that happens around Christmas. The whole park is lit up and it draws crowds, which helps the park to survive financially. They put on a variety of programs to get the public involved and interested, much more than any other zoo I’ve seen. I was really impressed.
There are even brass life-sized sculptures all over the park that kids can climb on. It’s a way for children to interact with the animals in theory if not in practice. I think that’s a lovely idea.
The most memorable experience I had, though, was with the lion. As I was approaching his enclosure I heard a roar. When I got there, he was walking toward the window where I stood. I was mere inches from him. He looked me square in the eye. Then he playfully thunked his head on the plexiglas, causing it to shudder, flattening his mane and reinforcing the fact that under any other circumstance I wouldn’t survive an encounter such as this. Then he turned and urinated all over the window. Dude. I get it. You’re in charge.