After a hiatus of about five or six years, as a member of the Woodland Zoo, I had some catching up to do. So I made a trip back on the second day of October 2007 to see what had changed.
A new jaguar and one for the gorillas at the beginning of the Tropical Rain Forest were two of the most important additions. Also a "night" exhibition hall for those critters that tolerate very little light (I saw nothing myself, as I have poor night vision. Supposedly it takes 10 minutes to acclimatize to the darkness).
Other than not, not that much had changed in terms of animals. Maybe it's my appreciation of the sheer beauty and fascination of the animals, that has changed.
October 1 through April 30 constitutes the "winter" season for the Zoo, so I was able to wander about in serenity without having tons of screaming kids and their parent-chaperons. But the zoo closes early (4 p.m.), at which time all the indoor exhibitions are locked down. Visitors can apparently stay until about 5:30, depending on the mood which zoo staff they happen upon.
Actually, it was better than when I used to remember it, mostly because it was the off-season. It felt like I had it to myself and a few other interested adult "naturalist"-types. Plus a few families ("o-o-h, see the jaguar. He is lonely. He doesn't have a mate"), a few tourists.
The grizzly bears in the Northern Trail section were to use the too-often used adjective, "magnificent" in a way that makes Steven Spielberg seem all too Disneyland-ish. The Monorail, Columbia Tower, etc. seem strictly utilitarian, clunky, and boring by comparison with any of the denizens of this species. Nature wins hands-down.
The giraffes, with their impossibly long, thin legs were still there, passing back and forth between their aluminum sheds and the very smallish, narrow quarters outside behind the wire fence.
And in the African Savanna--probably the best of the "natural environments"--no rhinoceros, but, instead, I was able to catch a fleeting close-up glance of a male lion, truly regal, before he trotted back into the savanna. I suddenly had an insight as to how obscene hunting is, especially as it is considered a "sport" (?!) and has nothing to do with meeting real human needs, other than that of sheer (mistaken) ego.
And a couple of Malayan sun bears were frolicking without self-consciousness in their own miniature neck-of-the-woods.
With the improvement of the "natural habitats" of the past ten years (less of the "animals-trapped-in-cages" of earlier times), a trip to the zoo every year or two brings a kind of natural bliss. Just go in the off-season so that the families don't become the principal show.
My main criticism of the Woodland Zoo remains the same, and could be directed probably at most zoos: the animals, though housed in relatively "natural" environs, are still, largely, part of a "show," without enough attention being directed towards providing a learning experience.
The destruction of 1/3 of the Amazon River Valley in the past few years, the sharp declines in populations, as well as their natural habitats, along with their imminent or probable extinction is not stressed enough.
Going to the zoo becomes a family outing no different from other entertainment: going to the movies, to the circus, shopping at Pacific Place, skiing, etc.
On the other hand, admission, or a membership, to the zoo is at least a way of showing a little appreciation for all the other members of the Natural World that we take so often for granted and have as much right, if not more, of living on this increasingly crowded (by homo sapien!), polluted planet.