Set in 250 acres of parkland opposite the New York Botanical gardens, the Bronx zoo opened in 1899. Once a week the general public are given free access, a day that the school children take advantage of to learn and observe the conservation work that happens here. We join the busloads of children as they queue up to enter the zoo. To see the main attractions you still need to buy a pass for the day if interested or buy individual tickets for each attraction.
A peacock welcomes us as we pass through the entrance. Lakshmi poses with it happily for a photograph till it gives out a loud squawk and startles her. There are more of these beautiful creatures in the zoo. Given free reign to roam the park they dazzle the children with their ritual dances. Although generally referred to as peacocks, it is the males of the species which are really the peacocks and the females the peahens. Collectively they are called the peafowls. Each male have 2-5 females in their group or harem and apparently get depressed if they lose their female companions.
It is a warm spring day. We follow the paths, see the gazelles, kudus, nyalas and find out the difference between antelopes and deers. Antelopes, cattle, bison, goats and sheep have horns. Deers have antlers. I look up the difference between horns and antlers. Horns are keratin covered bones. Antlers are bony structures which the males of most species shed yearly after the breeding season in winter before it regrows the following spring. During this cycle of regrowth it goes through a velvet phase before it solidifies. The Animal
Kingdom’s equivalence of preparing for and dealing with male aggression and egos, I feel.
The African wild dogs also known as the painted wolves are fast asleep in their enclosures and we strain to see their colourful coats. Lavinia is enchanted by the giraffes as she sees them up close and personal and keeps calling them dogs. The grizzly brown bears play in the sunshine and entertain the onlookers.
There is an adventure play area for the young Tarzans and Janes. Kavitha and Nidhin take Lakshmi around this circuit twice. She would have happily stayed there all day if given half the chance. A monorail ride takes us around part of the zoo from where we watch Happy the elephant have her mud bath, the rhinos cooling down with a mud soak in the shade, red pandas and many more animals from the comfort of our carriage.
Large smooth polished rock surfaces visible along the paths we tread are too inviting for the already hyped children. The smooth ridged surfaces give the impression of fallen giant tree trunks. Lakshmi jumps at the chance to do her penguin walk along one such long exposed boulder. The rocks are remnants from the last ice age as the thick ice, that covered the city melted away and can be seen around the parks in the city.
In the butterfly garden the striped, plain and patterned orange and green butterflies flit around us. In between they settle on flowers or dishes of nectar. Out in the open robin sized grey catbirds hop around. Chipmunks scutter from bush to bush. The sea lions are squealing and loudly complaining about some grudge they are holding as they swim about in their serene looking pool. We watch the Komodo dragons laze in their glass cages. The sisters in one, while their larger sized brother watches us intently from the other.
The dinosaur safari sounds like a fun trip but the queues are too long. It is getting past the children’s bedtime back in England and Lakshmi keeps reminding the animals that it is time for bed before she bids them goodbye. We walk to the bus stop around the corner to catch our short bus-ride back home.