Friday, October 26, 2007

A Washout at the Zoo

We spent yesterday at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Forecast called for showers, but as Tim's on vacation this week and the zoo is closing early Friday, Saturday and Sunday for their annual Boo at the Zoo event, we knew this was our only day to fit it in.
It turned out that "showers" didn't mean short bursts of rain with breaks of sun in between, as one might guess. "Showers" meant steady, misty drizzle from gloomy grey skies, driven by a cold wind. It turned out for the good in that the zoo was almost completely empty -- there were a few school groups in the morning, but by lunchtime the place was pretty much abandoned. The animals were more active than we've ever seen them (of course we usually go in the heat of the summer, so whether it was temperature- or rain-induced activity, I couldn't say). We spent a good deal of time in the indoor exhibiis, seeing more here than we ever have before. The volunteers were very eager to share! We were able to speak with volunteers and zookeepers about a number of species -- the naked mole rats were particularly amusing, but we also got to see the spotted spiny lobster being fed, learn about leafcutter ants, see a capybara skull up close and learn more than we ever cared to know about elephant dung. And it was interesting to see the keeper giving the red-tailed ratsnake a shower! He appeared to be really enjoying the bath.

We also hit the giant panda jackpot. We happened to be passing through the new Asia Trail exhibit at snack time, so baby Tai Shan was enjoying a plastic milk crate dripping with honey, Mei Xiang was entertaining herself quietly near the glass observation wall in the community room, and Tian Tian was playing with a ball filled with some kind of cookie treats -- as he rolled it across the floor, the snacks fell out and he scarfed them up. Ordinarily we're lucky to see one member of the giant panda family at a distance, but we saw them all up very close yesterday. It was a great experience. Our girls have a special fondness for these beautiful ambassadors from China, and we love any encounter we have with them. Yesterday was extra-special panda time.

Of course a good deal of our time was spent in Mommy's favorite places -- the Think Tank and The Great Ape House. The O-Line was not in use so we didn't see anyone making their way from one building to the other, but we did get some interesting one-on-one time with the orangs (or the "rango-tangos," as Rina calls them). Kiko, Bonnie and Batang were in the Think Tank when we visited. Batang was very pouty; she kept rolling away from the girls, tossing hay around and flopping down on her side as if she couldn't get comfortable. Bonnie and Kiko were more interactive -- the girls played peek-a-boo with them and they seemed engaged for quite a few minutes. When we got to the Great Ape House, we had a nice visit with Lucy and also saw Kyle. I am so enamored of these amazing creatures, with their expressive faces, distinct personalities and beautiful coloring, and I would spend my entire time at the zoo observing them if my family would let me.

My photos are dismal -- it was just so gloomy! Nothing photographs well through glass, and there was simply not enough light outside to capture the beauty and wildness of the creatures we encountered. I've uploaded a few pics that turned out so-so; I guess another trip will be needed in the near future to try to get some better shots.

Unfortunately, weekday traffic coming out of DC was even more dismal than the weather and my photos. It took us five and a half hours to get home (it ordinarily takes just under four). We were all done in by the time we pulled up to our house late last night! But the zoo itself was a great experience and we can't wait until we can visit again.

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