Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Philadelphia Zoo

It is particularly fitting to begin this post with a map. Having never been to the Philadelphia Zoo before, BUT having been to Philadelphia on the nightmare of Interstate Highways that get you to and from the city of brotherly love--I knew I needed a map. So I "Mapquested" the trip. MISTAKE! The directions get you close and then go completely awry, leading you to the heart of Drexel University on a one way street that goes wawy from and NOT to the Philadelphia Zoo. Enter the old fashioned road map and the day was saved.

So I arrived about 45 minutes later than I intended and parking was at a premium! I ended up parking on an access road behind the zoo that I was told "counted" as part of the Frog Parking Lot. Lucky me! And well I really wanted to walk a lot, too, so I took it in stride. (Pun intended!)

This meant that I was entering the park from the extreme north corner. My first impression was how quaint the place was--but then again, the original park was chartered in 1859 and opened to the public as the first zoo in the United States in 1874. The first adult visitors paid 25¢ for the privilege. I paid $18.00 for admission and $12.00 to park in the "alley."

The north end of the zoo hosts the area known as the children's zoo (like kids only care about bunnies and feeding goats!), and the first thing I encountered was the camel rides. I was impressed by the operation and so were the young riders.

RED PANDA, Ailurus fulgens
Then I came upon the cage enclosing the Red Pandas. It was all wrong, nay backward. The animals were isolated from anything organic and while I watched them they just paced in circles, oblivious to the world around them. This is why I hate zoos.

GIANT OTTER, Pteronura brasiliensis
I turned to the next set of exhibits and after glancing in on a pair of amiable COATI, Nasua narica, and a pair of intense INDIGO (LEAR'S) MACAWS, Anodorhynchus leari, I came to the home of a family of Giant Otters who were not only enjoying their spacious and clean enclosure, but were happily clowning around for the guests. This is why I like zoos.

At this point, I really needed to pee, and so consulted the map and found the closest available lavatory in the McNeil Avian Center.

The McNeil Avian Center was another pleasant experience. Many species of birds--African. Many experienced without any barrier between them and us. And throughout birds housed with organic vegetation and not faux flora.

You leave the center and see the swan boat paddlers on Bird Lake.

Throughout the park, impromptu muppet shows are staged with a cast of puppets who's purpose is to engage young visitors in dialogues about animal conservation. The program is underwritten by Bank of America and honestly made me glad that they hold my mortgage. This one features Igor the Siberian Tiger. The muppets are designed by the Jim Henson studios. (I later caught another show featuring Didi the Dodo.)

Relieved, I went back to the area described on the map as the housing animals from the African Plains.

MHORR GAZELLE, Nanger dama mhoor
Kept with a single ADDAX, Addax nasomacolatus, the Mhorr Gazelle is extinct in the wild and only survives in zoos.

COMMON ZEBRA, Equus quagga

RETICULATED GIRAFFE, Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata
The zoo keeps three of these amazing animals. The star is this one year old male.

POLAR BEAR, Ursa Maritimus
The next area is Bear Country. An island of bears and they all have ample spaces to inhabit.

CARIBBEAN FLAMINGO, Phoenicopterus ruber
Across the way was a lovely enclosure with Caribbean Flamingos and a few other interlopers (canvasback and mallard ducks--not officially part of the zoo).

Enter the MAJOR dark cloud over the zoo: the antiquated "Small Mammal House". Someone at sometime thought that this was a good idea. They built a "house" and made little aquarium like enclosures full of faux rocks and dead wood elements. Tossed in some dead or plastic foliage and a source for water then added small animals. After all, they're small!

I was appalled and distressed for the animals. They hold lives without stimulus or enchantment. They live in confined spaces that are as sterile to their natures as any prison cell. The last exhibit in the building is more open and on one side held a Sloth and a Capybara. The Sloth was a bundle of fur wrapped around a concrete fake tree and for all the world it might have been taxidermied. The Capybara was absent. Across the aisle was a similar space, the home to Meerkats and an Aardvark. No Aardvark, and the Meerkats looked washed out and mange ridden, there plaintive eyes seemed to beg for a bullet to the next life. This was the lowest point for me in this zoo. And then I saw a little grey house mouse run through the exhibit and out through a crack in the wall, and I had to stifle a laugh. The irony was just too much.

HARRIS' ANTILOPE SQUIRREL, Ammospermophilus harrisii
One of the inmates in the Small Mammal House.

Then I entered the Rare Animal Conservation Center and night became day. Everything that was disgusting about the Small Mammal House was amazing in this complex and the thing that really rankled me was that members of the same species were in both! What is up with that? Some animals deserve a generous habitat and others don't?

DWARF MONGOOSE, Halogale parvula
Bad picture, but a happy Mongoose...

The Impala Plaza (the zoo has no Impalas) features this fountain. A temptation for some today!

The Reptile and Amphibian House gets high marks from me. Granted they are simpler creatures, but much care has been given to tailor generous enclosures for the animals by and large. I found a couple of animals who spaces seemed inadequate (most notably the Chinese Alligator, but I realize the zoo is attempting to simulate an underground burrow...), and they were the exceptions. The place was also packed with visitors and like them, I lingered and enjoyed my encounters with a wide variety of animals.

HOURGLASS TREE FROG, Dendropsophus ebraccatus

ORNATE PLATED LIZARD, Zonosaurus ornatus

NILE CROCODILE, Crocodylus niloticus

I think penguins are the perfect kept animal. They just take to whatever environment or habitat they're given.

At the PECO Primate Reserve, the Ring-tailed Lemurs were outside painting pictures with zookeepers. Inside were various monkeys. The one Western Lowland Gorilla was lounging outside. The one Sumatran Orangutan was also outside and wrapping itself in a blanket to hide from visitors. I'm not sure what a suitable primate enclosure would look like. Overall this one wasn't horrible. There was ample natural light and many constructs to enable the animals to exercise. Compared to the dark, lifeless enclosure at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, this place was Club Med!

The final area I visited was the Big Cats Falls. It's an isolated and directed tour of several large wild felines. The first two species were the Snow Leopard and the African Lion. My initial impression that the animals were housed in large and comfortable settings continued throughout the exhibit.

PUMA, Puma concolor
The large cats were not limited to exotic places. And like the Pumas, the actual wire caging was limited and often discrete. All of the animals appeared to be content.

SIBERIAN TIGER, Panthera, tigris altaica
The design of the enclosure allowed the animals to come up against the visitors. I was honestly thrilled to be so close to a tiger. No picture can do the experience justice.

On a day when many people joined me to visit the Philadelphia Zoo, I was happy to be there. It was at times crowded and in one instance beyond annoying as a lady with an empty triple baby carriage blocked movement and acted like a deaf and dumb soul as people who clearly needed her to make a better choice were ignored. Then I stepped up and said, "For the love of God, move your fuckin' carriage." I think it was my angelic smile that moved her to comply.

Other animals that I encountered and enjoyed were Red Kangaroos, Wild African Dogs, Cheetahs, and Pygmy Marmosets.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Great Karoo & Cape of Good Hope Orb: The Design

The Great Karoo/Cape of Good Hope Orb presents an ecosystem found in the southern extremes of Africa. It is a desert, shrub and grassland ecosystem similar to that of southern California or the areas of the Mediterranean.

The Orb is 233 meters in diameter, and has a height of 88 meters. There is a study center for the plant Protea that is associated with this orb.

The water feature is based on the Witpoortjie Waterfall in Gauteng, South Africa.

A plant species is also featured: the Protea.

The orb is located on the NNE edge of the East Africa Savanna Orb.

Great Karoo & Cape of Good Hope Orb: The Mammals

With 13 mammals, this orb has a select fauna.

Great Karoo & Cape of Good Hope Orb: The Birds

This orb opens with 10 species of birds. It's the second orb with a member of the Ostrich family.