Monday, April 08, 2013

30 Days of Why I Love New Orleans - Zoo - Day 14

The Zoo

                See these eyes . . . .
                Think back, remember. Let your mind hear the haunting music of a great song by David Bowie. See in your mind’s eye something sleek and black and incredibly graceful . . . a leopard, a black leopard.
                Cat People—actually, the remake of the 1942 classic, was filmed in NOLA, with much of the filming taking place at the zoo. This one stars the ever wonderful Malcolm McDowell and Natasha Kinski and its considered to be erotic. That’s, of course, because, ahem, falling in love turns the naïve star into a leopard but due to circumstances, our heroine doesn’t know this until she comes to stay with her brother—in New Orleans. And if you’re a leopard, where do you wind up?
                The zoo! (6500 Magazine Street)
                I love the New Orleans zoo. It isn’t anywhere near as big as some of the zoos I’ve been to, but it’s big enough for a good day of walking if you want to catch all the exhibits. It’s also different, too, because it has an atmosphere that’s somehow entirely New Orleans.
                And guess what? It consistently ranks among our nation’s top zoos!
                The Audubon Zoo opened in 1938 and in the 1980s it was given a “zoo-over,” naturally to update things and also because that’s about when we realized that animals used to space needed more than little cages and we just started caring a lot more about what we did. We went to “natural” habitats. As with everything else, the “summer of storms” played havoc, but creatures were cared for and this area—not far from Tulane and Loyola—didn’t suffer the way some did. I was recently there; the trees were weaving, flowers—flowering—and fountains bubbling. It was a lovely day. The old mingles beautifully with the new here.
                I’m a zoo nut. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with the city as a child. There are magnificent creatures to be seen, and yes, many cities have fine zoos. But if you’re like me, you’ll want to see this one because it is unique and it’s especially fun if you’re traveling with
children. It is 58 acres, so you can spend time walking around!
                There are all kinds of things to do; there’s an elephant plaza and at designated times, a keeper gives an elephant show and children can touch an elephant without paying the extra needed at many zoos for an elephant ride. The elephants, Jean and Panya, are favorites of visitors to the zoo.

 Sea lions delight crowds and their exhibit is one of the oldest at the zoo. The lovely columns make it an especially pleasant spot and when it’s feeding time, you might need to jockey for space to see the fun.

 We all know (I mean, realistically, seriously!) New Orleans can get hot. But the zoo takes care of that by having a Cool Zoo. It’s animal themed, of course, but it’s a splash playground that tons of fun—for little children and those big children called grown-ups alike.
                You’re actually right in Uptown New Orleans—but you can be in the swamp while there, and sit in a rocker, and take in what that life might be like—and cool down a little there, too. Lots of trees and shade. You’re safely up close and safe with lots of alligators as they bask and swim in muddy water
and watch you with their curiously cunning eyes. You’ll also see a Cajun houseboat out on the lagoon, and other denizens of the region.
                Reptiles? They got ‘em. Cobras, rattlesnakes, Kimodo dragons.

 There are white tiger brothers here—King Rex and King Zulu.
                Monkeys, primates, bears.
Giraffes? Of course.  You’ll find them at the African Savannah along with hippos, rhinos, zebras, wild dogs, and more.
Years and years ago, under the Works Progress Administration, workers built Monkey Hill. It’s twenty-eight feet tall; for many children from New Orleans, it’s the only hill they know.  

 And, of course, it’s legendary for being the highesttopographical point in the city.  Today it has trails, wading pool and a cool rope bridge.
If you haven’t much time and you’re not sure what you want to see most, I suggest you catch the little tram which does a pretty good sweep of the zoo; then you know. Wow—I missed that turn. I have to go see the bear!
Naturally, you can stop for a snack, or lunch, or a drink. It’s hot, right? Of course, they have water and sell it, too. There are a few rides, too, if you’re looking for that kind of entertainment—but those are animal themed, too. (Extra fee.)
If you haven’t caught the movie, Cat People (I’m referring to the 1982 remake,) it shows some really fine buildings unique to the New Orleans zoo. They were what made the set design so compelling, in my mind. Some have seen the way of storms and time, but some still stand; you can ask at information if you want to know which ones are original to the zoo. People there are friendly and helpful.

Did I mention the jaguars? They can be found at Jaguar Jungle.  They live in a habitat created to resemble Mayan ruins. You'll also find anteaters there, along with sloths, spider monkeys and other creatures.  The different habitats are well done and reflect the natural homes of the animals.
All in all, it’s a lovely day in a beautiful section of the city. They take excellent care of the animals and all the trainers and keepers I met were deeply devoted to their charges.
They do close around four or five in the afternoon, depending on the day, and if you’ve driven there, when you’re done, you can take a ride down Magazine Street where you’ll find wonderful restaurants and stores and you can browse and find a great place for dinner. For many of my friends who live in the city, Magazine is their favorite place to shop. I’m rather partial to a few places there myself.
But I love the zoo. There’s something very special about it.
Cats, yes, of course, big cats!
See these eyes . . . .

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