With the onset of a particularly brutal winter, zoos have been cropping up in the media with some regularity. Most of it has to do with answering that oft-asked question, "What do the animals do in the winter?", with special discussions of how zoos keep their animals safe and warm. On the other hand, it's also popular to show videos of cold-weather animals -polar bears, Amur tigers, river otters - playing in the snow.
Heck with that. There's a better way to spend winter at the zoo. Indoors. In the tropics.
Some of my happiest zoo winter memories have involved wandering indoor rainforests, giant greenhouses with towering trees - real and artificial - and blossoming greenery on both sides of the path. It's been a great sensory experience - the smell of the rich potting soil and the leaf litter, the brightness of the colors (at least after you've defogged your glasses) compared to the dreary grey outside, the sounds of birds and monkeys chattering overhead. In the winter months, when there are typically far fewer visitors to the zoo, it's not uncommon to have such a building all to oneself.
These moments provide some of the most special zoo experiences - being transported to another world, as different from our own urban or suburban one as the surface of the moon. The tropical rainforests, as everyone has had beaten into their heads, are some of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. We all know that. But knowing and caring are two very different things. And nothing promotes caring like a chance for pure, unadultered wonder...
And a little gratitude for having a place to come in to get out of the cold.