Monday, January 18, 2010

Zoo in Central Park

Quote of the Day: Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
-- Frank Lloyd Wright

Finding ourselves in the dead of the New York City winter, we skipped a hike in the woods and decided to stay closer to home. What better place to experience the wilds in Manhattan than the Central Park Zoo? Of course, you could get lucky and find wildlife roaming the streets!

DISCLAIMER: Although you may take many, many steps around the zoo, you are not going to make your 5 miles here. We managed about 6,000 steps including the walk over and back, just over half our goal of 10,000 steps a day, so count on going out again after dinner, as we did, for the missing 2 miles! You must clock 5 miles or more on the old pedometer to pump up that bone density.

We began our hike by walking up second avenue, in search of caffeine and lunch.

A neighborhood fave, Gotham Cafe, has great coffee plus healthy sandwiches and snacks. They make a delicious pumpkin low-fat latte and a substantial high-protein breakfast bar.

After fueling up, we headed west toward the zoo, and passed the sky bridges linking three buildings of Hunter College at East 68th and Lex.

A pre-war apartment building on East 68th Street foreshadows the animals we'll be seeing at the zoo. The building sports a whimsical facade that features opposing deer with their necks arched upward. Beneath them are a pair of outward-facing eagles, and between the eagles two swans facing in to a cornucopia of fruit. This building with its alternating inward/outward facing pairs of animals gave us a playful sense of rhythm as we bopped along.

Finally, we crossed 5th Avenue to Central Park.

We entered the park at 67th Street. Sunday is one of the park's busiest days. It's closed to traffic and attracts families, people taking their dogs out for a romp, bikers, skaters, joggers, and just-plain walkers.

Children tugged their parents toward the balloon man. One just had to request a shape, watch a twist or two by the vendor's hand, and voila! Off they went with the prize.

The entrance to the Children's Zoo is reminiscent of Pan. No, children are not kept on display there. It's a zoo specially for children, with baby animals and other cuddly creatures. Unfortunately, we had too late a start to visit, so we'll take it in next time.

The Delacorte clock has delighted zoo-goers for generations. Every hour on the hour, the animals enact a musical ballet around the clock. A slightly less elaborate dance takes place on the half hour.

The entrance to the zoo is to the left of the sea lion pool. As we went in, we asked what time the next feeding would take place. There was only one feeding left during visiting hours: the sea lions at 4:00. That gave us about an hour to explore the other habitats.

The Polar Bears are a year-round favorite, but to us they seem happier in winter. Sadly, like many animals in captivity, they are prone to obsessive/compulsive behavior. Many zoo animals, though, were rescued, or born to a rescued parent, and would not have survived in the wild.

This male was fixated on the yellow plastic pail, continuously biting and trouncing it with its front paws. Do we remember correctly that some years back, there was discussion among veterinary psychologists on how to help him?

His girlfriend, meanwhile, spent most of her time lying in the sun, with her head resting on a newspaper.

Another big attraction, the Snow Leopard debuted at the zoo in June, 2009.

A black and white stork keeps watch over the pond where ducks and pheasants live.

Playful Snow Monkeys, aka Japanese Macaques, attract the most attention. These two are grooming one another. The higher the place in the group hierarchy, the more grooming one receives.

A sea lion looking for its next meal as the 4 PM feeding time approaches.

Feeding time. The seals' antics delight onlookers of all ages.

Their act of bows, flips, claps, dives and flipper-stands are as slick as you would see on a Las Vegas stage, and are totally orchestrated by the trainers' hand signals. Of course each trick is immediately rewarded with a handful of herring.

Feeling chilly? Step in to the Zoo's Tropic Zone where the temperature keeps everybody cozy. Exotic birds have free range of the open rain forest's three levels from the ground up to the tree tops. A West African Long-Tailed Hornbill sidles up to a keeper, in search of a seedy snack.

A Scarlet Ibis balances on a branch, looking for a handout?

This exotic creature seemed to glow in the dark.

The Keel-billed Toucan calls with a creek creek sound similar to frogs...

... which brings us to the reptile wing of the Tropic Zone.

Blood Python.

Green Tree Snake.

Keeping company with the snakes, a Standing's Day Gecko never seemed to move.

Wax Frogs. Their skin is so green and shiny, they resemble figures out of Madam Tussaud's wax museum.

We ended our day with a peek at the zoo gift shop. Lots of great bargains here, if you're in the market for animal masks, boas, cuddly stuffed animals, and of course T-shirts and caps.

The Arsenal, which dates back to the 1800s, houses the park's administrative offices and the Zoo's Learning Center. At closing time, we exited the zoo at 66th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Park Avenue and 66th Street. Sunday means lots less traffic and many more speeders.

Jungle in the City. With wisteria climbing everywhere, you just can't seem to escape the wilds.

Next week, we plan to stay in the city again to avoid using the winter traction devices required on the woods trails. We'll join an AMC city walk around The Wild West -- The West Village, that is!