By DAVID GREEN
Not too many minutes passed Saturday afternoon at Toledo Zoo before I said to my son-in-law, Taylor, "There's also the human zoo." He knew exactly what I meant. The zoo is such a great place to look at people.
I know I'm part of it, but probably not as entertaining to watch as many visitors. Well, I have my moments.
As visitors enter the zoo, a large poster states that only two visits pay for the cost of a zoo pass. I think that worked for us. We bought a pass last August for a visit while children and grandchildren were in town. We used it again July Fourth, so in walked all 10 of us for no additional cost.
I miss the dank old tunnel that used to pass under the highway and tie the two sides of the zoo together. I suppose I would have to walk through it again to know if I really miss it, or if it's just the memory that I miss. Maybe I'm forgetting that it really stunk, but that was the way in for much of my life.
Now visitors just walk past the Subway sign and instead circle around an inclining path to cross over the road, but it has its charms. There are a couple zoo workers in the overpass showing off a polar bear foot or some other oddity. There's a close-up look at a pair of bald eagles and an overhead view of the so-bizarre cassowary birds from South Pacific. Bright blue necks, double wattles, enormous feet—what a show.
I don't have a great relationship with zoos and captive animals, but a great zoo like Toledo's makes it easier. I've had a couple of big breaks between zoo visits—from the time I was a kid to when my own kids started visiting, and then again when my kids were too old to be interested until grandchildren arrived. There have been many, many changes during that time.
I remember the old days of watching gorillas and lions walking around in concrete cages—prison cells, perhaps—and thinking it was a cruel existence they were doomed to live. I was glad to stay away. But as most of you probably know, the old lion and tiger building was converted into a restaurant and cheetahs are free to roam around a large vegetated area.
The polar bears might get bored swimming around the same, unchanging pool of water and walking into the same fake ice caves, but at least it's a sizable pool with some variety of landscape. And you can't deny the added benefit of regular meals served every day.
As Taylor pointed out, the real environment for polar bears isn't what it used to be with the changing climate. We don't notice it much here—and some people just joke about it every time we get a big snowstorm—but the Arctic is seeing climate change much more dramatically than most areas of the planet. Maybe a zoo bear—in a good zoo—isn't so bad off after all.
The cassowaries are impressive, but the gorillas are just plain thought-provoking. They're so humanoid. It's so easy to see our distant relationship. And it's just so strange to watch them watching us. At least I think they're watching us. Maybe the glass is tinted and they don't see much when they look at the viewing area. One visitor yesterday kept waving at them in an effort to…I don't know, did he expect one to wave back? To come over and talk? My wife said the looks on their faces suggest they're trying to tell us something.
If you haven't visited yet this year, you need to do it just for the renovated aquarium. You walk in and are immediately wowed by the moon jellyfish. You go around the curve to the touch aquarium where stingrays brush against your fingers. Sharks galore. Sea horses. Dancing eels. It's all very impressive.
Lots of fish doing endless circles in little tanks? At least they aren't being eaten by some bigger fish, I think.
The human zoo was rich, too. The walking exhibits showed that it takes all kinds and shapes, and message T-shirts, too.
My role in the human circus? The merry-go-round ride ended, strollers were gathered up and off we went in search of apes. I pushed an empty stroller for a child who was being held. At least I thought that was the case.
Forty yards down the walk, my son Ben turned to me and said, "That's not our stroller."