Telling and Showing: A Rookie’s Guide to Visiting the Zoo, Specifically the National Zoo in Washington DC.
The zoo is as perfect a place for people who love animals as it is for people who hate animals. Some people undoubtedly believe that animals are mistreated in the zoo, and that zoos, on the whole, are a net negative. Others, though, believe that the compassion and love for animals a trip to the zoo can impress upon a youngster generates enough goodwill towards our furry friends to compensate for these mistreatments. I’m not really sure where I stand on all of that, but one thing is for sure: going to the zoo is usually an entertaining, thought-provoking quest through the food chain. Here are some of the most exotic facts I learned during my last adventure at the National Zoo in Washington DC:
Gorillas actually do beat their chests:
I’m a see it to believe it kind of guy and I saw it happen. I am surer of this than I am the existence of the Dakotas.
Peacocks are called “peafowl”
I’m not sure “peafowl” is a necessary distinction (lionesses are still lions) but whatever; it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care. Male peafowl may still be called peacocks, while female peafowl are called “peahens.” This information may not be quite right. I didn’t read the placard, I overheard someone say it. Google it, maybe? God.
There are a lot of critters you don’t need to know about before (or after) you go:
When going to the zoo, especially the National Zoo in Washington DC, the animals you already know about are just that for a good reason. The ones you don’t know about are all just rodents of different sizes with silly names. I saw what I thought was a mouse, only to find out it’s was really something called a Degu. Its genus-species name is OCTODON DEGUS, which is so inappropriate because OCTODON is a big sounding word, (even without the caps). I imagine Doctor Octopus from Spider Man 2 with his Mafiosi hat.
Defecating lions are captivating lions.
In this ever-divisive epoch in our country’s history, as insidious actors both foreign and domestic seek to drive the wedge of fear between us, we all, despite our race, gender, sexual-orientation, political affiliation, religion, or certainty of our own infallibility, find lions going number two fascinating. It was great to feel a sense of unity as folks of all backgrounds gathered together for a few minutes to relish in the universal and metaphysical oneness of being part of a group of mere humans watching an apex predator casually strolled away from her four counterparts for a mid-day bowel movement.
Sidenote: The 5 lionesses were separated from one solitary male lion, who seemed to miss them very much.
Lemurs don’t seem to hold grudges:
I found myself enraptured at a scene of five lemurs eating lunch. Each of them had the same thing, a stick with leaves, eaten kabob style. I noticed that one lemur finished his kabob before the others, and promptly stole the kabob out of the mouth of another lemur seated nearby. When the burgled lemur protested, the thief lemur attacked him until he backed down and ceded his meal. About a minute later, they comfortably contorted themselves upon one another in play. Forgiveness seems to be an integral part of Lemur culture, especially at the National Zoo in Washington DC when you only have 4 possible friends to choose from.
Bison, on the other hand, totally hold grudges.
Bison and Buffalo are the same thing. I didn’t really know that going in. At one point, there could have been up to 60 million of these mythic beasts roaming North America freely, but throughout the 1800’s, settlers, in a genocidal push for total hegemonic domination of the country, decimated the Bison population so many times over that in 1884, only around 325 wild bison remained in the country. That figure is growing again, bison are totally on the up and up, but it’ll never be the same. And the two bison at the National Zoo in Washington DC were clearly fucking pissed. They didn’t appear eager to engage in a dialogue with me, though maybe I didn’t deserve it. Now that I know a little more about their complex relationship with American history, and that “buffalo” and “bison” are interchangeable, I think we can start our next conversation on the right hoof when I return.
Giraffes don’t give a shit
They don’t care about your tiny human problems. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, what you see is what you get with Giraffes, and they don’t give a shit either way.
- Full disclosure: I actually didn’t see a single giraffe at the National Zoo in Washington DC, this is just a general meditation on giraffes from past experiences at other zoo.
- Komodo dragons also don’t give a shit, but they’re too Z-list for this entire thing.
That Zoo Kid
Every zoo has one. The National Zoo in Washington DC proved to be no exception. I’m talking about that chubby, bespectacled know-it-all 8-12-year old who always wants to impress an older guy like me with his knowledge about trivial animal things. For whatever reason, this kid is always parentless, either because said parents doing something else 50 feet away or because he’s one of the 12 year olds and they bought him a damn zoo pass so he can go alone and stop being so insufferable to his family.e. Anyway though, I was looking at some dumb fish that wasn’t good enough for the aquarium, and this classic zoo kid just comes up to me and says “THAT’S THE ALLIGATOR GAR. IT BREATHES OXYGEN. IT COULD SURVIVE ON LAND IF IT COULD WALK.” I looked at the kid and said “I don’t care, it can’t walk, now if you don’t want to buy a dime bag from me, go away.” It’s astounding how much money kids walk around with these days!
(I don’t actually go to the National Zoo in Washington DC to sell drugs to children, but buying drugs is a better use of their money than those stupid smushed zoo coin tokens from those machines. No one takes currency with a damn panda on it, not even the panda express. Like what the hell are you planning on doing with it? Kids are so dumb.)
At the National Zoo in Washington DC, the alligators and crocodiles are probably all fake
THEY DIDN’T MOVE ONCE.
A small sample size of elephants provided no comment on the national anthem protests
This was especially disappointing. I asked a group of four elephants, “Hey, do you believe that standing and kneeling for the national anthem are both acceptable displays of patriotism?” Three elephants walked away, and one just stared at me blankly. I tried to re-package the question by serving up a real softball: “What do you think about our president insulting athletes instead of sufficiently helping people in Puerto Rico or Northern California?” Again, no response. I guess these important figures in the animal kingdom are electing not to use their platforms to advance critical conversations. What a shame. As the last elephant turned to walk away from me, I yelled after him, “Do you believe this issue has been hijacked?” He remained silent and did not break his pace. Maybe they really are cowardly. It is important to remember, though, that I asked only a very small sample size.
Otters are still just the best
For as long as I care to remember, Otters have been my favorite animals. They are effortlessly cool, devoid of the pretentiousness of the caribou, and they generally know how to have a good time. Whether at the National Zoo in Washington DC or in the wild, or at any other zoo in any other place, they are out there making the best of what they got, playing together, united by the mysterious bonds of fellowship that you forge with other flipper-having rodents.
Chameleons: Not a bullshit reptile at all! Super chill.
I saw what looked like a chameleon on a stick, however the stick was brown and the reptile was green. The thing about chameleons supposedly camouflaging into their surroundings is established orthodoxy, so I was pretty underwhelmed by how easily I could see this chameleon. Then I read the placard, which informed me that chameleons only camouflage when they are stressed or when they want to communicate. Clearly, this chameleon didn’t mind living in the National Zoo in Washington DC that much, but he also didn’t have the urge to say anything good about it.
Takeaway: The National Zoo in Washington DC, and by extension all other zoos, are (not a place to sell drugs to children and) unique in their own right. Even if you don’t walk away from your experience with a more complete perspective on zoo ethics, you might learn some cool shit.