The Bronx Zoo

What limited appreciation I have for the natural world comes largely from my grandfather. Left to my own devices, I’m the sort of person who believes that lack of air conditioning and an overabundance of insects make the great outdoors unfit for human habitation, but Grandpa is more broad-minded.

When I was little, I sometimes joined him when he visited the family’s old overgrown farm on Terra Ceia Island on the gulf coast. There I learned to identify a few marine birds (herons, egrets, anhingas, osprey) and to climb citrus trees to reach fruit on the higher branches. Those trips were fun, but Grandpa finds plenty to appreciate in our small-town backyards, as well. He leaves peanuts on window ledges so we can see the squirrels up close through the glass when they come to snack. He e-mails us about various celestial happenings—a lunar eclipse, a meteor shower, Mars particularly low in the night sky—and urges us to watch for them. He cultivates vegetables and flowers in his backyard garden and greenhouse, and though I’ve never been any help to him, I enjoy tagging after him to watch him examine the greenery when I visit.

So when I heard Grandpa was coming to visit us in New York, I knew immediately that I wanted him to see Central Park and the Bronx Zoo. In mid-March, still not quite spring, it wasn’t an ideal time for either, but we had a good time. At the very least there weren’t any mosquitoes out to sting us.

A few photographs, courtesy of Dad, after the jump … 

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The trees hadn’t yet begun to bud, but these gazelles were outside nonetheless. (Not all the animals were.) In the background, you can see one of the electric-blue peacocks that roam the zoo freely. (Incidentally, I originally identified these animals as deer, but my cousin Jamie pointed out that they’re gazelles. Oops.)

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These tigers didn’t do much (do big cats ever move?), but they don’t need to parade around to look regal. Besides, I always get a kick out of noticing how they recline in the same positions as our house cats. Right now, Tess looks just like the tiger on the left as she skeptically watches me type.

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The grizzly bears were running around, wrestling, and playing in the water, but even in motion, they weren’t quite as endearing as this lazy polar bear.

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I had been eager to see the gorillas, but they were mostly out of sight indoors. Luckily, this monkey and its compatriots made up for their absence. We got to see them quite closely as they swung about their habitat and groomed each other.

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Similarly, we wandered all around the east side of the zoo to try to find the penguin exhibit (the Bronx Zoo’s map is worse than useless), and once we found it, the Magellanic Penguins were sort of disappointing, just clustered together on a rock, not playing in the water like the penguins we fondly remembered from the St. Louis Zoo. (What can I say? My family enjoys zoos.) But just as the monkeys compensated for the absent gorillas, the vivid, wildly diverse inhabitants of the nearby Aquatic Bird House made up for the dull penguins. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t recall what kind of bird this is (maybe Grandpa would remember—he has a good eye for birds), but its big, beady black eyes cracked me up.