The Zoo – Round Two

Entrance to the National Zoo

A friend convinced me to give the National Zoo a second chance.  I first walked through the outdoor Smithsonian exhibit just before summer, in May, on a morning that felt like it could have been in the middle of summer.  At that time, the animals appeared lethargic, if they appeared at all, and I left the place feeling gypped in some way, though the zoo is free, so I couldn’t complain too much.  I took a few photos of tigers lying in the sun, of birds standing still in their enclosures, and the highlight of the day – the orangutan crossing the O-line that rises above the main path.

Lions at the National Zoo

Lions at the National Zoo

On this trip, we missed the time for the O-line, but timed it perfectly for seeing the other animals in action.  The male lion roared in his exhibit, pacing from end to end of the half circle, and we joined several dozen humans and four female members of his pride to watch him.  The younger lions played with burlap blankets and frolicked in fall leaves that they might never see in their natural habitat.  The nearby tigers, separated into separate habitats talked to one another over the concrete wall and paced around the doors, as if waiting for their dinner. We never saw the food, but 2 p.m. was the prime time for big cat action. The bears were out for viewing as well (to continue the Wizard of Oz theme), in an exhibit that is only open on weekends. The inhabitants include a family of four spectacled bears.

In between these outdoor exhibits, we ventured into the warmth of Amazonia, where the monkeys that we had seen earlier in glass enclosures roamed freely above our heads in a living tropical forest.  We stopped by both the Think Tank, which was empty at the time, and the great ape house, which provided instructions for kids to make friends with their nearest animal ancestors.  Zookeepers played hide and seek with the younger apes and feed the others, creating a playground indoors for the children who ran up and down between to the two levels.  We discovered reptiles in the aptly named reptile discovery center, which was less scary than expected, and found oceanic and other invertebrates in the exhibit by that name.  Expertly curated, the indoor exhibit ends with somewhat disturbing spiders, whose webs are within arms length and not enclosed, opening to a peaceful butterfly garden.

The zoos famous pandas took some time to find, given the options of a upper, lower, and indoor viewing area.  By 3:30 in the afternoon, they lounged indoors, eating bamboo.  The elephants stayed at far end of their exhibit, and the animals along the Asian Trail once again stayed largely in hiding, although the Asian otters made an appearance.  The American counterpart exhibit was closed for construction, leaving part of the main path devoid of open exhibits. The zoo counteracts this span with isolated exhibits for the emu and prairie dogs, and adds the occasionally American squirrel in its natural habitat to the delight of some of the children, who seemed as excited to see this creature as any of the more foreign ones.

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