Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NYC09: A Free Day at the Bronx Zoo

Wednesday is Free Zoo day in the Bronx. Take the two train to Pelham Parkway and then walk two blocks west. The first thing you'll notice is the eco-friendly washroom. Urinals without flushes, toilets that washes waste away with some sort of foam. All the byproducts go to fertilize, or act as grey water to keep the plants growing. The informative signage there was more than enough to pique my interest.

Heading to the gate, you have to grab a ticket; there is a suggested dontation, but this is not the type of place that will make you feel guilty for entering free. Approaching the booth, you will be asked how many people are in your party. Once your tickets are printed, and your map has been handed out you'll be asked if you'd like to make a donation. It was that friendly, non-threatening approach was more than enough to get me passing over the suggested donation of five dollars.

Though I didn't expect much from the zoo, I was still willing to support their conservation efforts.

World of Birds
As I unfolded the map I realized the extent of which my expectations were about to be disproven. My first stop was “The World of Birds.” An entire world, you might ask? Is that really necessary. Well – I can assure you that it is.

Having spent years within the Metro Toronto Zoo, and also taking tours through a number of other zoos throughout the country, I thought I had seen it all. There were brightly coloured birds, feathers of all shapes and sizes, and a number of billed avians. There was a Toucan perched on a branch, offering a spectacular profile for those on the other side of the glass.

Tiger Mountain
Next up was Tiger Mountain. Not only does the exhibit come with a spectacular name, it also features tigers in well created habitats. Incorporating an aquarium visitors are invited to watch the fish swim by, while the big cats lap at the very same water.

Passing beyond the feline pavilion one will find themselves at a poachers truck where they can explore what horrors might be found on board. As well, there are postings explaining what damage such people do to the various species on the globe.

The Big Ones
Walking around the zoo, visitors will also come across Giraffes, Bison, and Bears. There are grizzly bears, and polar bears. You may even have the chance to watch the polar bear play with a brightly colored ring (which you will then fight to keep out of every picture you take. After all, you wouldn't want something unnatural interfering with your pictures of these creatures in terribly unnatural environments, would you?

Congo: Gorilla Encounter
At the North-West corner of the zoo, you will come across the Congo exhibit. Though it is well marked, it's still possible to simply walk on by and find yourself at the snack bar. But take a moment to enter inside. You will begin walking a path through a recreated jungle, including a number of steps through a downed, oversized, tree.

During the warmer months all manner of animals can be found here. And then there are the gorillas. Hard pressed for a standing place against the window, you may find yourself fighting with others for a choice spot from which to view the nearly-human monoliths. Once you've had your fill of their playful antics, you can enter the gorilla theatre where documentaries on the animals and their natural habitat play.

From there, you will return outside (encased in hard plastic tubes.) During the summer, the animals are let to roam slightly more free. You can view them as they come up close to you, or even sit perched above you on your enclosure.

Sea Lions, Fallout Shelters, and More Birds.
Rounding out your zoological experience are the Sea lions outside the new Madagascar building. You will watch the elders and young play alongside each other, and listen as they bark, battle, and burp. And just in case bombs start falling from the sky, there will be no need to worry – because yet another fallout shelter is marked only a few paces away.

And for those who didn't get enough flying critters at the World of Birds? Well there are three more buildings here. With time running out, I had to make a choice. I chose the sea birds, on the off chance that I'd see a puffin. For some time now, I'd really wanted to see one. And inside, I hoped I would get my opportunity.

As it would turn out, they were there. Even if the zoo fell short of my expectations, this one moment would have made it worthwhile. But the zoo did not fall short. In fact it exceeded all hopes in every category. The rare bird was merely icing on my proverbial animal cake.

All the Rest
There are more place to see and explore in the zoo. There's a monkey house, birds of prey, and World of Darkness just to name a few of the other places worth seeing there.

All in all? definitely worth my five dollars.

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