By Daniel Dunaief
My wife wanted to get out of the house and move beyond the daily walk in our neighborhood for her birthday. We decided to take our teenage children to the zoo.
Back when our son and daughter were younger, a trip to the zoo was a cause for celebration, as they got to see animals from all over the world, watch various shows, spend about four seconds reading an interesting fact about their favorite creature, and continue to hop, skip and jump from one exhibit to the next.
These days, their thumbs do most of the hopping, skipping and jumping. Given the importance of birthdays in our house and the willingness to do whatever the birthday celebrant desires, our teenagers gamely climbed into the car.
As with most zoos this year, we had to preregister for tickets. Indeed, the Bronx Zoo requires visitors to use a date-specific ticket.
The experience of entering the zoo was remarkably quick and smooth, saving us the customary wait.
Zoos require guests to remain socially distanced and to wear masks. All but about eight of the other visitors we saw wore masks.
Most of the time, other guests also maintained social distancing, taking their turns to the glass to look at gorillas and apes, who didn’t seem at all curious about the appearance of people whose lips and noses disappeared behind masks.
While we circumnavigated the walking trail, all four of us reveled in the appearance of numerous animals, including an enormous bison and a swaying elephant.
It seemed slightly unfair to the ostrich, who is over nine feet tall and is the largest bird in the world, to share a pen with the 20-foot giraffe, which dwarfs a bird that also has the largest eye of any bird in the world.
Something about seeing all these animals, including a lemur resting in a tree, an arctic fox and a pair of lions, restored a sense of normalcy in an abnormal year. It was also comforting to hear the excitement from other people who all expressed similar sentiments in several languages when the giraffe started to run.
On our first trip out around the zoo, we stopped at three bear exhibits in which the celebrated occupants were either not there or hidden. Once we had circled the zoo and headed back towards the car, my wife played her birthday privilege, urging us to take one more look at the black bear, the grizzly bear, and the polar bear.
The first two bears remained out of view on our way back to the car. Standing alone along the railing at almost exactly 4 p.m., which was closing time, we saw the polar bear slowly emerge, then retreat, then emerge from a darkened den. We suspected he might have a keen sense of time and know when it as safe to come out and avoid larger crowds.
He or she (we didn’t read anything about the bear’s gender) played with a toy that looked like the top of a garbage can and then reached up to a ledge to pull down a bone with some meat on it. After giving us an eight-minute private show, the polar bear took his bone and, as if on cue, exited stage right.
While the zoo might not be at the top of your list or top of mind, particularly during the winter, it offers a pleasant chance to get away from our own 2020 pens. The Bronx Zoo has a know before you go page, which you can see by searching Know Before You Go — Bronx Zoo, with details about visiting this year.