I am no militant animal rights activist, but I feel pretty passionately about the subject, specially when it comes to issues such as animal cruelty, most predominantly in circuses and puppy mills.
I understand that the idea of keeping a wild animal in captivity is not quite right, it's not fair at all to the animal's inherent right to freedom and domain of his own territory and life. However, we've already fucked up the planet enough that sometimes an animal's territory and free life are not what's best for its survival and well-being. That's why I'm not 100% against zoos. During my visit, the San Diego Zoo convinced me that they too feel that way in the most part, and the animals they keep, even if their space is much more limited than what a free range would be, are healthy and well cared for.
Besides, and this is the selfish, Elmyra-like part of me talking: I like seeing animals up-close, specially those I haven't seen before. It gives me a rush to the head like few other things do.
The San Diego zoo is huge like none I've previously visited. I haven't seen all that many zoos. To be honest, I've only visited the Zoológico de Mayagüez (the main Puerto Rican zoo), the zoo inside the Science Park in Bayamón (terribly depressing, I'm amazed they haven't been shut down), the Matecaña Zoo in Pereira and the Miami Metro Zoo (a free-range zoo, most probably bigger than the San Diego Zoo, but I was way too young when I visited, so I don't remember too well). Thing is, I wasn't quite ready for the vastness of the zoo. More than half a day wasn't enough to see everything there was to see. We missed the big cats and the monkeys, for example. However, they have set tourist traps outside every main attraction. I think that's a way of not only selling every plushie, keychain, resin figurine and t-shirt imaginable, but it's also a way to guarantee that no one will get to see the whole zoo in a single day, so they'll buy a 2-day or 3-day pass for the next time.
Our main goal for the day was to NOT get lost inside the zoo, and at least that we achieved. We got on the tour trolley as soon as we got inside, just to get a gist of how the zoo was laid out. In spite of our best common sense, we sat on the top tier of the bus. I got a nice sunburn on my arms as a result, but we got to see some of the exhibits from a nice vantage point. No big cats nor monkeys, though. They like the dark, apparently, so their exhibits are not as easily accessible or viewable.
I tried to take as many pictures as possible from the vantage point the top tier offered, but the point came fast enough in which I was so amazed by everything that I didn't know where to look, much less where to point the camera lens. So Eze took the camera from my hands and took some pictures himself.
Yay for a smiling and confused Diana!
After the trolley, we got on the Skyfari (an aerial tram), which would have been totally fun, but instead was totally hilarious, as I realized Eze is pretty nervous about unsecured heights. I laughed all the way to the other side of the zoo. Yes, I'm evil that way.
We then visited the polar bear exhibit: a huge tank with some rocks and overhangs to provide shade for the bears. The special part is that the tank has an observation room that allows the public to view a side section of the water as well, so we could enjoy what was going on underwater just the same as what was going on at the top. At that hour, the little Coca-Cola pals were having some nap time, however. I was amazed at how much they look like dogs, not ferocious at all. I guess I'd be of a different mind if I were stranded in the Arctic pole (or on the island of Lost).
After that we ambled around a bit, ate some cheap-ass churros (after tasting some decent copies in here, having imitation churros at a zoo park is a lukewarm experience at best). Caught some four-legged, hooved friends, including the ever-so-hailed zebra - which is just like a donkey glorified by very funky stripes.
One of the biggest highlights of the trip to the zoo was seeing the pandas. Pandas are said to be on the verge of extinction, mainly because of their refusal to have sex (therefore procreate), plus they insist on eating only bamboo, which is a very frail plant that gets wiped out with incredible regularity. It seems to be a species bent on self destruction, just like us humans. I guess that's why we:
1) insist on meddling in their affairs and keep them in captivity, every once in a while goading them to fuck, utilizing increasingly weird methods of encouragement, and
2) get all teary-eyed, sympathetic and soft-hearted at the sight of one of these distant cousins to the raccoons. However, when we see a raccoon, we can't help but thing of garbage, go figure!
However stupidly suicidal as this species seems to be, having them so close was almost magical... and I couldn't stop thinking of my sister all the while.
There was also the issue of the kiwi. I really wanted to see one of them, SO much, principally to take a few pictures to show my brother (he has been nicknamed "Kiwi" since he was 14 years old). We deviated from the fastest route and took the most up-hill trekk to be able to see these birds. I was SO curious, I had never seen one of these up-close. I arrived to the exhibit only to be greeted by a slab of metal, a note on kiwis, saying that these are nocturnal birds and that the exhibit had been set up with a lighting scheme similar to moonlight, to increase to probability of the kiwis showing during open hours. GODDAMMIT! The exhibit was fucking dark as hell, and worse yet, no kiwis showed! >-( Goddamned antisocial animals!
Yep! That's a very frustrated Diana, trying to be contented with having a picture taken with a fucking board...
One new favorite animal after this trip? The meerkats! I was very surprised by these fellas. I was under the impression that these animals were as big as a small dog, but when I saw these bite-sized bundles of playfulness, I was hooked. They're small, they're cute, they're playful and they're carefree. For the time we were there, three or four meerkats were playing around under the sun, tumbling and running onto each other and flopping belly-up to bask in the sunlight. They made a fan out of me in a couple of minutes!
Finally we stopped by the elephant pen: two Asian elephants and an African one share a relatively small territory. I don't know how they pull it off, and it seems as if the reduced space has kept the elephants from growing into their full-fledged glory. Or maybe as an adult I've grown to expect things as majestic as elephants to be as huge to my eyes as they were to my 8-year-old self.
We wrapped it up by visiting the koala exhibit. Funny thing is, while the koalas held behind acrylic sheets were stuffing their faces, the ones sitting in their trees outside were all curled up in their sleep in an exactly identical fashion. These little critters seemed fragile to me, not in a baby-cute way, but in an old-geezer-who-needs-your-elbow-to-stand-up sort of way. It's like getting a grandpa wrapped up in extra-fuzz.
We left the zoo with lighter wallets, but we at least got the idea that next time we should dedicate more time to the visit, and maybe even give more attention to the Wild Animal Park.
BTW: You can visit my Flickr set of our visit to the San Diego Zoo and get the whole gist of the paseo: I took tons of pictures and included more than a few comments. So feel free to drop by, look around and leave comments ;-)