In the not too distant past, I thought that putting animals in a zoo was cruel. The idea of putting wild animals in small cages seemed so patently cruel, unnatural, and ultimately indefensible. Just think of a lion – the king of beasts! – locked up in a small enclosure no bigger than most suburban backyards. I only knew of lions from the Discovery Channel: on the hunt, “at one with nature” (or so the omniscient narrator claimed). Certainly this is how animals are meant to live.
But these were the idealist thoughts of a naive college student who might have read a wee bit too much Animal Liberation. A fact of the 21st century is that we make it very difficult for many wild animals to simply exist. This is the result of poaching and the destruction of forest habitats around the world. And even though many zoos have an inglorious past, most today offer a countervailing pressure against humankind's more destructive tendencies. The Indianapolis Zoo is a local example of this. Their mission statement sums things up nicely:
"The Indianapolis Zoo inspires local and global communities to celebrate, protect, and preserve our natural world through conservation, education, and research, and by providing an enriching and wondrous environment for our visitors and the animals in our care."
A visit to the Indy Zoo will set you back a few bucks: during the winter months, adults are $8.00 and children (2-12) are $6.00. This doesn't include parking, rides inside the park, and the inevitable trip to the ice cream stand. See the complete rate table. Before you get lost, make sure to grab a map in order to plan your visit. There's a cool interactive map of the zoo available from their Web site.
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I find most animals to be really boring. Maybe it’s because I don’t get to the zoo early enough (yes, I know, early morning and late evening are the best times to go) but I very seldom see the animals up and about. More often, I see them sleeping, loafing, or simply out of sight. Of course it’s completely unfair to hold the zoo responsible for this, but I secretly wish zoologists could work on making the animals more interesting. Of course some animals, like dolphins, are perfect for zoos because they get on famously with humans, but the vast majority can’t be trained to do much of anything, and thus act like they always act, which is to say, boring. (In fairness to the zoo and its fine animals, I have the attention span of a gnat largely due to years of incessantly playing video games and watching TV. I'm amazed that I finished this paragraph without paying my XBox a visit.)
The notable exception to the above are the aquatic creatures, and the Indy Zoo exploits this fact: their underwater viewing area is excellent, with great views of penguins, sharks, seahorses, and sea lions (shown below), and so on.
A recent addition to the Indy Zoo is the seahorse exhibit. The new layout of the exhibit is excellent, providing choice views of these tiny creatures. (The tubes they have set up remind me of something out of Star Trek.)
Watching zookeepers feed the animals has a tendency to ruin whatever "wild" illusion might have been created (not that the ersatz mountains painted on the wall help much here). But at the same time, that penguin in her coat is pretty cute.
But don't think the zoo is just a bunch of fauna; There's flora galore. A good amount of the plant life in the zoo is labeled with small black signs that provide its common name and scientific name. I’ve never had much patience for learning the names of plants, but this nice attention to detail shouldn't go unoticed.
The Indy Zoo is clearly geared towards kids. It offers a playground, train ride, carousel, roller coaster, and other attractions designed to make your child go loopy. One note about the train ride: it's not worth the money. A good portion of the ride is spent with a lovely view of the outside of the zoo and the backs of buildings.
One of the nicer areas is a series of ponds centrally located near the concessions. Here's a funny looking swan I saw swimming in said pond, clearly assuming that I was going to feed it. (Of course there are plenty of scare signs telling us not to feed the animals, but based on this swan's reaction, obviously not everyone heeds this warning.)
For some reason the
manatees walruses were drawn to the plexiglass, or perhaps to the people standing outside the plexiglass. I'm not an expert in such matters, but maybe they're lonely? Either that or they were trying to eat us.
The "Plains" region of the zoo has the usual suspects: giraffes, white rhinos (quite rare), monkeys, elephants, and of course lions...
I neglected to take a picture of the real giraffes, so here's a fake one announcing the plains section:
The pictures and descriptions above are only a small sampler of what you can see and do at the Indy Zoo; there really is quite a bit to take in. I'd especially recommend it if you have kids or if you like photography.
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