What seems like forever ago but was actually May 5th, Jam and I went to the Bronx Zoo.
I love good zoos. I hate bad zoos, you know, the ones where the animals are pacing or plucking out their feathers or look visibly ill - luckily I haven't been to a zoo like that in a very very long time, and as time goes by, I think many of those zoos are closing, which is good but also bad because it leaves animals with a whole new problem, and before I go on a rant about the Catskill Game Farm.
I had been looking forward to going to the Bronx Zoo for a long while. I had heard some great things about it, everything from the conservation message it's dedicated to sending to patrons to the naturalistic habitats to its sheer size. I had also been nagging Jam to take me there. When we decided to go, our trip coincided with the purchase of my new Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the timing could not have been more perfect: the zoo is a photographer's dream, or at least it was this photographer's dream.
Here are the highlights:
Right off the bat we had some monkey sex. Nothing says nature quite like sex. A great way to educate the children too. Luckily I have a sense of taste and didn't get the monkeys full-blown doing it, but people were recording and laughing about it, which leads me to the one thing I hate about zoos: other people visit them. Anyways, these monkeys were pretty proud of themselves, although what exhibitionist wouldn't be??!
We moved through to the african animals next, my personal favorite even though I've seen almost all of them in the wild. I found out that the Bronx Zoo has African Wild Dogs, and they are sort of the keystone species of the zoo and at the heart of the Wildlife Conservation Society's mission, which is: "The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild lands through careful science, international conservation, education, and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks. These activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in sustainable interaction on both a local and a global scale. WCS is committed to this work because we believe it essential to the integrity of life on Earth." It was great to see such educational things about African Wild Dogs - so many people have never even heard of them, and they're so unique and of course disappearing slowly but surely. I even have video of them, which I may post later.
There were cheetahs too. I love love love LOVE cheetahs - they're graceful and unusual and also disappearing from the planet all-too-quickly. I think one of the reasons I love cheetahs is because a cheetah researcher visited us on an Kenyan game farm on which we were camping and gave us a wonderful lecture on cheetah conservation, and Mary Wykstra's message has stuck with me since, and I am certainly reminded of the importance of species conservation every time I see one of these animals.
We made our way through more exhibits, this time heading indoors. We encountered Wolf's Monkeys, which are incredibly beautiful. Typically, I was drawn to the baby, which honestly reminded of me of some human children I've encountered, LOL.
We moved on to the Congo Gorilla Forest. At first when we realized that you had to pay extra to get in, Jam and I were like "Uh, NO." Then I got to thinking and realized that I really did want to see the gorillas. Gorillas in zoos are a real touchy issue for me. I realize that much of the behavioral research done on gorillas in zoos is benefitting the wild population and doesn't harm any captive gorillas, but they're such intelligent creatures, and when you see them in a small cell-like enclosure, it breaks my heart. Luckily the Congo Gorilla Forest was no such place. The gorilla enclosure was large - very large, with rocks and trees and grass and plants. The young ones were climing and playing while most of the others were eating, though one mother was cradling her baby, then laid down for a bit of a rest. The large male was holding cort in front of the glass, with many people gathered round. Usually when I see a gorilla pressed against the glass looking at people who are gawking back and generally acting like idiots, I can't stand it. This was so differnet. You could tell the gorilla was enjoying himself. He kept rolling his eyes like 'you're kidding right, this is all it takes to entertain you?" He stuck his tongue out at the crowd, then proceeded to ignore them. I caught this lady giving someone "the look." This exhibit made me really happy, seeing the gorillas with space and entertainment, acting relaxed. It was wonderful. At the end of the exhibit, which also included red river hogs, monkeys and an okapi, you got to "choose" where your admission money went at a kiosk. I chose for it to be used for gorilla conservation, then I got to specify even more, and chose to send my admission to a local ecotourism venture in the Congo that would benefit the local people while conserving the local gorilla population. Wonderful!Now bear with me, because here come the birds. We made it to "World of Birds" after an extensive effort to get into "Birds of Prey." Oh well, maybe next time ;) This exhibit was impressive because a lot of it was open. The birds weren't loose and flying around or anything, but the white-fronted beeaters below, for example, were in their habitat but had no glass or wires or anything to keep them in.
This next bird, the Luzon Bleeding Heart Pigeon, was in more of an established and contained habitat, but the plexiglass keeping it in only came chest-high on me, and when I started cooing to it (I'm a freak, I know) the bird walked right up on a log to pose for me:
I saw lots of birds from Kenya too. There was a Taveta Golden Weaver and Blue-Naped Mousebird, a favorite. There was also this Golden-Breasted Starling, which I saw a glimpse of in Kenya. It was good to see one up close and personal, and I love this particular shot because it makes the bird look so inquisitive. I suppose it was , really, since it landed in a tree above our heads and looked down at us.
This is a Great Blue Turaco. I got the sense that they were endangered from my Birds of Kenya guide, but everything I've been seeing on line doesn't even list them as vulnerable!! Of course they could be quite rare in Kenya, I suppose. I certainly never saw one, but I believe that is because they're restricted to the montane forests of Mt. Kenya and Kakamega in western Kenya, so that's reason enough never to have seen one!! It was great to see a turaco here though.
Here is a Great Hornbill, the largest of the species. You can tell this one is a female by her white eye; the male's have red eyes.
A Toco Toucan.
A Palm Cockatoo, which was just gorgeous. I love his intelligent-looking eye.
Finally, a message of conservation, which makes so much sense and made me so happy to see right in the middle of the zoo path. I hope hundreds of people see that a day and think about it, really think about it. Plus this sign is actually a great explanation of why zoos exist and why they are beneficial to both people and the animals within and in the wild. Humankind will only save this planet if they understand it. Zoos are a mechanism for teaching understanding , especially in a place that is so dedicated to conservation.
So that's pretty much a wrap. I know it wasn't a very descriptive post, but I hope you enjoyed the pictures, and that next time you're in New York City, you'll consider going to the Bronx Zoo, even if it is just to swing buy and use the ecologically conscious rest room ;)