Posted by: jevcat | May 29, 2011

Janny and Zooey

[First:  apologies for pun in title (and, no, I’ve never read the book – or any Salinger, for that matter, although I did skim part of Catcher in the Rye when I was about 13 and didn’t like it enough to read the whole thing).]

I recently was asked to – and did – volunteer time on a Saturday morning to help escort some U.N. diplomats and their families on a tour of the Central Park Zoo.  I had fun spending time with people from different countries – my group included families from Europe, Asia, and Africa – but the zoo itself was also a revelation.

I looked forward to the tour with a great deal of anticipation, as I hadn’t been to the Central Park Zoo in probably 30 years, and, with the possible exception of the sea lion pool, I wouldn’t have recognized it.  Sometime back in the 90s it was taken over by the Wildlife Conservation Society (for New Yorkers not in the know, that’s the Bronx Zoo folks), and the transformation is almost miraculous.  In place of the bare old cages with pacing, unhappy animals, there are whole habitats:  Arctic Circle, Rainforest, and Temperate Territory.

We began and ended in the Temperate Territory.  Our second stop was the Arctic, where we saw snow monkeys in an area that made me feel as though I’d walked into a National Geographic spread on Japan, plus separate sections for polar bears,

Polar bear enclosure with sleeping polar bear (if you can find him)

and a snow leopard.  The latter reminded me of one of our own cats, George, who recently celebrated his first birthday.  It therefore amused me greatly to discover, through reading the display alongside the enclosure, that the Central Park Zoo’s snow leopard, acquired through an inter-zoo breeding program, has a father named George.  Although I was not able to get a photo of the snow leopard in the zoo, I did take one of the photo of his dad in the display.

Papa snow leopard George

Our George at four weeks

Indoors, we watched penguins being fed in a glassed-in area that let us watch their graceful swimming as well as their decidedly un-graceful surface waddling.

Penguin feeding time (and backs of their viewers)

Also indoors was the Rainforest area, which really did feel tropical and whose inhabitants included wonderful birds, some of which were new to me.

Scarlet ibis

Ibis and peacock

Yet another bird, not sure of the name

Back outdoors in the Temperate Territory again, having retrieved one wandering diplomatic child, we watched the sea lions being fed, stirring childhood memories of watching the same activity in the same spot.  Afterwards, I had lunch at the café with the organizer and one of the other volunteers.  The organizer treated us, first apologizing for the quality of the food, to which I responded that if it were bad (it wasn’t, considering), that would be almost the only thing leftover from childhood.

After we went our separate ways, I headed over to the Tisch Children’s Zoo, a place I hadn’t been in even longer that was even more unrecognizable, and also much for the better.  I do confess to a nostalgic wish they still had the Jonah’s whale in the belly of which one could see a fish in an aquarium, and the Noah’s ark, accessed by climbing up a gangplank, that I think had a petting zoo (somewhere I still have photos of myself and friends there back then).  The current petting zoo is somewhat less imaginatively housed, though more extensive than the one in my memory.  And I do love the sort of statues that let you pose as a turtle or lobster by sticking your head through the space provided.

There is a price for all the wonder.  The Central Park Zoo, which was free when I was a child, now has a charge, but it’s a fairly reasonable one, at least by today’s standards, and includes both the main zoo and the children’s zoo:  Adults $10.00; Senior Citizens (65+) $7.00; Children 3-12 $5.00; Children under 3, Free.  It’s worth it.


  1. What a wonderful day! I love all the pictures, and especially George–indeed, he is a snow leopard–just, you know…Apartment sized for convenience.

    It’s been one year exactly since my daughter, Stephanie and I were there to sing at Carnegie Hall…
    time flies! I look forward to getting back to New York one day–we should go have waffles.

    (Waffles, by the way, are the international breakfast of friendship)
    (I made that up–I just really like waffles)

    • I like that image: George as an apartment-sized snow leopard!

  2. I’ve always wanted to visit the Central Park Zoo! $10 isn’t a bad price at all – looks like it’s really improved over the years. Best part of all? After the zoo, you can fill up on some excellent pizza! It’s all about the little things…

    • It has improved, Mark. It’s a different place. The Bronx Zoo is huge and amazing and wonderful. The same folks have now managed to transform the Central Park Zoo into its miniature, in a way, and one needn’t feel so sorry for the animals anymore. As for pizza, well, New York has more different kinds of pizza, more wonderful pizza (and more awful pizza), than probably any place in the world, maybe even including Italy.

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