As a massive wildlife lover animals and the natural world have been a huge focus of my travel destinations. I always try and fit in an opportunity to see a famous native species wherever I am in the world. This is quite a difficult task when you visit cities. However, having previously attended a wildlife class at my local Edinburgh Zoo I had heard a lot about the conservation programmes run by many of the East Coast zoos – one of these being the Bronx Zoo. Since the weather was forecast to be sunny we decided to check it out and in turn visit another borough – The Bronx.
The Bronx and Harlem used to have a pretty sketchy reputation and no-one visited the areas for fear of the gangs who inhabited them. Since the Mayor cleaned up the city and shipped all the criminals out to Newark the boroughs, particularly Brooklyn and now queens have been growing in popularity. Harlem and The Bronx have yet to be hit by the ‘hipster’ bug but I am in no doubt that this will happen, probably sooner than later. There are excellent subway links out from the city and in just over an hour we arrived at the zoo gate.
The most noticeable feature of The Bronx Zoo is that it is set up like a great big park. There are multiple entrances and people can buy a reduced price ticket to simply wander the grounds. Those people could still see some of the less famous animals such as giraffe and bison that have open enclosures dotted throughout the park. What the zoo is really famous for though is their themed exhibits. These exhibits are all ticketed and so those just wanting to enjoy a stroll in the park in the sunshine cannot access the areas. This allows locals who visit regularly to enjoy a local park while allowing visitors to pay extra for the ‘full zoo experience’.
We started off in Jungle World as this was the exhibit nearest to the entrance we had used. After passing the camel rides we entered and came across our first animal, the tree kangaroo. I had never even heard of such an animal before which was really quite exciting.They also had a few reptiles including the long-necked turtle, another first for me! One of the things I was really impressed about was how open and forest like the monkey exhibits were. We saw ebony langurs, silver-leaf monkeys, the last time I seen these was on a plantation conservation project in Borneo and even a mouse deer. It was great how they grouped all of the animals together into the same region to explain to visitors what would all live together in different environments. After the malayan tapir and white cheeked gibbons it was on to the sleepy star attraction – the black leopard. They had a whole wall explaining how leopards sometimes have completely dark pigmentation rather than the yellow and black. This is what some refer to as a panther. If you look really closely you can still see the spotted pattern even through the black.
The African Plains is one of the non-ticketed sections and you are free to wander as you please around the section. We walked up past the grevy’s zebra – a rare species of zebra found only in the northern plains of Kenya and Ethiopia, spotted hyenas and rothschild giraffe to get to the zoo’s most famous exhibit – Congo.
This is somewhere I have always wanted to go, hopefully one day. However, a lot of the animals they have in the surrounding forests of Uganda and Rwanda as well which I have visited. We started out with the okapi which had been spoken about down in the zebra section so was a good educational follow through. We saw some wolf monkeys before being shown a short film focussing on the threats faced by the Congo forest, one of the last great wild places on the planet. As the film ended the curtain came up to reveal the world famous western lowland gorilla exhibit. The Bronx Zoo has an extremely successful gorilla breeding programme and with the success of programmes like the condor re-introduction there is hope that one day, should the need arise we will have a viable population of captive gorillas for re-introduction purposes. It was lovely to see them sleeping in the sunshine. However, as we turned the corner the real highlight presented itself, 3 mothers with small babies. One was clearly only a few months old and much smaller than any of the wild babies I had seen in Uganda last year. It was beautiful to watch them playing with their mothers in the sun although as would be expected extremely crowded.
We passed the lesser flamingos on the way to the café for lunch where I had a lovely, if very oversized chicken caesar salad and a red velvet cupcake. The day was turning out spectacularly with the sun shining. We walked through the children’s farm on the way to the Madagascar exhibit. This is somewhere else I am very keen to visit so was looking forward to seeing what they had done with it. There were some beautifully coloured birds that could fly around above you which was lovely. One of my favourite parts was the lemurs; they had ring-tailed, red-ruffed and sifakas. They also had a ring-tailed mongoose which again I had never seen before.
There was a caribbean flamingo exhibit at the end on the way to the birds. The zoo has 3 bird specific exhibits as well as the native birds in each of the geographical area exhibits. I really like photographing birds so have quite a few photos of these. We managed to catch a bit of the californian sea-lion feeding and training session but it was really crowded so we wandered past the komodo dragon and white rhinos instead. The komodo dragon was much smaller than I had expected and yet another place I would love to visit.
As I mentioned the zoo is also a park and so after the american bison there is a river walk that takes you along the Bronx River to a small waterfall and points out using signage different animals that would call the river home such as the beaver. It was a beautiful day for a walk and we really enjoyed it strolling along in the sunshine. After some deer we made our way to Tiger Hill where they had a pair of amur tigers. They were absolutely beautiful and because of the hot weather were enjoying splashing around in their pool and coming right up to the glass to check out the crowds.
The polar bear however, did not seem too impressed with the heat and was pacing around his pretty small enclosure. This was the only animal we saw that I thought looked distressed. As I learned from my zoo class days pacing behaviours are not necessarily a sign of stress and can be a way of for example an animal marking their territory, especially a solitary animal like a polar bear. The zoo had also rescued 2 naughty grizzly bears which had been causing havoc out in the wild and they had bred and had cubs at the zoo. The 2 fully grown cubs were play wrestling in the pool as the parents looked on while sleeping up in the shade.
Although they we doing construction in the Himalayan Highlands section they did have one of the snow leopards on show which I was really glad about. These are also hugely majestic animals and great to see. The only place I have had a chance of seeing them before was in Krakow Zoo. The red panda exhibit backed on to this and they had a makeshift bamboo forest to show the habitat that these animals would live in high in the mountains on North Western China. They were really active and it was great to see them utilising their balancing skills by walking out on thin branches really close to us.
This section connected back on to the African Plains and we finished off the day with the gelada baboons from Ethiopia, the african lion and the nyala, their prey. I was highly impressed with The Bronx Zoo, they had great educational signage at all of their exhibits and tried to really mirror each animal’s natural habitat as best as possible. It was nice to see them keep sections together geographically to give you a sense of how the animals of a region all live together in their different environments. Throughout the zoo there was also huge sections as part of each exhibit on why the animals of each habitat are threatened and what we can do to help.
As the afternoon turned to evening we caught the subway back to Manhattan and went to the Delta Grill for dinner. I am hoping to visit New Orleans next year and so we thought it would be nice to try something a little bit different. I had a really tasty chicken and smoked sausage gumbo with an amazing Riesling from Washington State and my mum had a pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato chips. It was a lovely way to end a brilliant day. We had to have an early night though as we were off on a 2 day adventure to Niagara Falls the next day and so had to pack up our room.