Monday, May 2, 2016

Playing tourist in St. Louis

The weather was supposed to be decent Friday so we planned a trip to the St. Louis Zoo. I'm definitely getting old. The next morning I woke up feeling like I literally walked my feet off. I'm not sure just how many miles we may have walked, but we did a lot of going in circles to make sure we saw everything we really wanted to see, like the new polar bear exhibit. We did enough walking that I was beginning to envy the people who had rented "electric convenience vehicles," i.e., scooters like the ones you see at supermarkets but with a much smaller basket on the front.
The polar bear exhibit is nice, although as usual I felt sorry for the bear. The habitat is a lot larger than what zoos used to do, but even so. . . that poor bear is going to get to experience Missouri summers. The beast does not get to live in a refrigerated building like the penguins do. The penguins and puffins exhibit is probably going to be the most popular place to be at the zoo once July gets here. Friday wasn't particularly warm, probably in the mid-60s, but stepping into the penguin building still bore a strong resemblance to stepping into a giant walk-in refrigerator. We felt the cold immediately.

We had figured that by going to the zoo on a Friday, there'd be fewer people and better parking than if we waited for the weekend. Pshaw. It's Spring. It's almost the end of the school year. It's Field Trip Time! There might not have been as many total vehicles in the parking lots, but when quite a few of the vehicles that are there are bright yellow and 40 feet long? The school buses ate up more of the parking than buses normally would, but fortunately we did get there early enough to snag one of the few spots left for cars. For the first two or three hours we were at the zoo, there were large herds of short people in matching tee-shirts running the legs off their teachers and chaperones.
Takin, a beast from the Himalayas that is surprisingly agile for its size
 It made things a bit crowded, but when it was mostly packs of kindergartners and first graders, they didn't block the views of anything. School kids aren't nearly as annoying as the yuppie moms with the over-sized Cadillac strollers who insist on parking their infant, a child still so freshly decanted that its eyes are barely open, in front of the viewing window and then baby-talking imploring the grub to wake up and see an animal that the mom is busy misidentifying. You know, telling little Chauncey to open his eyes and see the big monkey when the beast on the other side of the glass is an orangutan or gorilla. Way too many people are old enough to breed but still not able to read the signs telling you what it is you're looking at.

Granted, there are some critters in every zoo that have visitors scratching their heads and mumbling "what the hell is that thing?"  I know that was my reaction the first time I saw a takin, a beast from the mountains of Asia that looks like a cross between a musk ox and a goat. Some of the wild pigs looked pretty strange, too, especially when the sign on the enclosure said it contained bat-eared foxes. If those critters above this paragraph are foxes, they're the oddest ones I've ever seen. The label being wrong was unusual for the zoo -- usually everything is described accurately, right down to exactly where the beasts are from and how endangered (or not) they are. The St. Louis Zoo is involved in numerous conservation efforts and participates in breeding programs for a variety of animals.
One of the things I thoroughly enjoy about the St. Louis Zoo is the architecture. The zoo has been in the same location for over 100 years. The older buildings have really nifty details, touches like the capitals on the columns in the reptile house (if you look close, you realize the intricate details are snakes and lizards), or the elephant bas relief shown at the top of the post. I thought the 1904 World's Fair enclosed flight structure was cool, too. It now encloses a cypress swamp (slough? bayou?) inhabited by various water fowl (hooded mergansers, roseate spoonbills, egrets, etc.). The thing feels huge, and, based on some hints I saw online, may have served as the nucleus for what is now the St. Louis Zoo after the World's Fair ended.

The zoo has also done a really nice job on its landscaping. The winding paths and various plantings manage to mitigate the fact the zoo is popular and there are hordes of people almost everywhere. It's like the lines at Disneyland, cleverly designed so you don't realize there are several thousand people ahead of you waiting to get on to the most popular rides.
In the photo above, the S.O. and Tammi have stopped to read a sign. Going by it, you'd think there was almost no one else at the zoo that day. Definitely not true. There was a large group following close behind us, and there was an equally large group of people just ahead of us, but the curving paths and various plantings meant it was easy to ignore them.
I always have mixed feelings about zoos. Part of me says it's just not right to take animals away from their native habitats and stick them in cages for people to stare at. It has to suck to be an animal like a jaguar or a hyena that would roam territories possibly covering hundreds of square miles out in the wild and be stuck in a habitat that's about the size of a suburban back yard. On the other hand, if we didn't have zoos where people get to see actual gorillas or painted dogs or even something as commonplace as flamingos, how many people would ever care about habitat destruction on the other side of the world?
Goofiest looking ducks I've ever seen


  1. Looks like a lot better zoo than the one in S.L.C.

  2. isn't Jack Hanna from the St. Louis zoo? I miss him on Letterman..
    I love taking kids to the zoo...they love it, even when I winch and want to cry when I see the big cats steadily and constantly pacing back and forth...


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