Longtime members of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), guardian of most New York City Zoos and the Aquarium, we visited, between us, four of its five parks, all save the Queens Zoo in Flushing Meadows, between December 27 and January 4, reveling in their natural treasures and relishing the opportunity for some close encounters with wildlife on the quietest of these days. The first was within walking distance; the second, a subway ride away; and to the last two, we went by car, with complimentary parking provided for members, and in each case, enjoyed some other nearby sites.
Prospect Park Zoo, 450 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, December 27. Giving my guest Everest the Brooklyn Experience according to Bruce-Michael, I took him for a walk across Prospect Park, my neighborhood park, culminating in a visit to the Prospect Park Zoo—abutting historic 18th century Lefferts House, built by a Dutch family in the village of Flatbush, and the carousel, constructed in Coney Island early in the 20th century—and showed off the hamadryas baboons, large dusty blue-gray Victoria crowned pigeons, the peacocks that wander the grounds freely and, in the farm area, the new baby zebu and the Juliana pigs Courtney, Bentley, and Buckle. Goats and sheep clamored for zoo-approved food pellets. Of the red pandas, only papa was on display, as it was after 2 p.m., and mama and the new babies were already off-duty. There’s some emphasis here, to a certain extent, on Australian fauna, emus, black swans, and dingoes. Chasidic families shared the day with us.
Central Park Zoo, Fifth Avenue at 65th Street, December 28. Part of the motivation for this trip, on a very crowded Christmas vacation Monday, was claiming our longtime WCS Member Komodo dragon t-shirts for 2015 and ’16. I jostled for space, on this solo visit, with numerous tourists and families with school children. One of the sea lions posed for pictures in the centrally-located pool. In the Tropic Zone aviary, scarlet ibises, high above, were a highlight; Victoria crowned pigeons dined at eye-level; and a blue-and-gold macaw submitted to a grooming by a much smaller green parrot. I visited grizzly bears Betty and Veronica; watched snow leopards at play; and in the Tisch Children’s Zoo, communed with pigs, sheep, a cow, and an alpaca, while a trombonist, just outside the entrance, played “Autumn Leaves” and other familiar tunes. Toward evening, I paused at the Paris Theatre to see Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, in “Carol,” portraying lesbian love, life, and strife in New York City in the ’50s, before going to see the tree, lit up, at Rockefeller Center, while there was still a chance.
New York Aquarium, Surf Avenue and West Eighth Street, Brooklyn, January 1. While the Coney Island Polar Bear Club took over beach and plunged into the icy ocean water, Joe and I paid our traditional New Year’s Day visit to the aquarium, as it continues to recover from the severe beating it took in 2012 from Super Storm Sandy. The penguins kept their distance, but the otters, sea lions, and walrus cavorted cooperatively. Sting rays, large tropical fish, and sharks now occupy the tanks that once housed beluga whales. You know the line “Had heebie-jeebies for Beebe’s bathysphere” in the “Follies” song “I’m Still Here?” At the entrance, marine biologist William Beebe’s diving bell, not for the claustrophobic, is once again on display. Following our afternoon with the sea life and a walk along the boardwalk, we went to nearby Brighton Beach to eat Russian food, at a Brighton Boardwalk restaurant with an ocean view, and visit favorite shops on Brighton Beach Avenue.
Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, January 4. A cold quiet weekday is the perfect time for close encounters with exotic animals. In the World of Birds, the birds watched us while we watched them, as did the lemurs in the Madegascar! exhibit. We visited with the Komodo dragon and white rhinos, brought back from the brink of extinction and considered a major conservation success story; admired the three bears in the grizzlies’ lair; enjoyed the snow leopards and the red pandas frisking in the Himalayan Highlands; and spent time with beautiful endangered Siberian or Amur tigers Josie and Alden on Tiger Mountain. We observed, at close hand, a zookeeper training Alden to raise his paw and to stand, with a reward of a piece of chicken at the end of his session. Dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant, on nearby City Island, with a view of the Long Island Sound, followed.
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