Flashback Friday: The National Zoo

One of my earliest memories is of going downtown to the Smithsonian National Zoo with my aunts. Strangely, I don’t remember anything about the animals. Instead, I remember running along the asphalt pathways in search of the “footprints” the animals left behind. The National Zoo used to have animal prints painted along the paths, leading toward the various exhibits. I don’t know why, but one of the few memories I still carry around from that trip is of following the bright red prints to the elephant house. Much to my delight, the only tracks that I could find on my recent trip earlier this week were newly painted red elephant prints, leading to the recently finished outdoor elephant corral.

Incidentally, one of the memories that my aunts still carry around about that day was that their niece was apparently a tiny camel: I never had to go to the restroom, but I wanted to stop and drink out of every fountain we passed.

I still love going to watch the animals at the zoo. I hate that they’re penned up and removed from their natural habitats, but I appreciate that they’re being studied as a means of benefiting those of their kind still out in the wild. I also appreciate that these animals are granted a certain degree of dignity that their circus counterparts continue to be denied. Wild animals are not meant to be performance artists.

The zoo has been undergoing some massive renovations as of late. It’s a bit disconcerting to see welders and elephants interspersed together in the same enclosure, but what they have done thus far has given new life to what was sadly becoming one of the most disrespected and dilapidated of zoos—age was taking its toll on the structures and mismanagement and incompetence were taking an even greater toll on the animals. A spate of deaths throughout the latter part of the last decade left quite a cloud over the Capitol City’s animal refuge.

Now, however, there are visible signs of improvement that, if nothing else, at least make it appear that the zoo knows what it’s doing. Large portions of the park are still closed, including the elephant house and where the sea lions once sunned themselves in all their glossy glory, but that just means that I have a reason to go back again next year.

Until then, here are a few of my favorite shots from my trip earlier this week. I wish the weather had been a bit more cooperative; however, the sky remained gun-metal gray and the sun never made itself visible. At least the rain held off until I was walking back to the Metro. Ah, well. Another reason to go back to the zoo…