Sometimes a holiday just inspires a special trip. This morning we picked up our daughter-in-law's mother (there should be a name for this relationship: Bald eagles Dil-mom?) and paid a visit to the Detroit Zoo.
From its founding in 1928, this trend-setting zoo has used open enclosures whenever possible. The animal settings are as lovely and natural as any we've seen. Zebras, giraffes, bears, elephants, hippos, along with flocks of exotic birds, were sleeping, walking, eating and courting, surrounded by trees and fields, yet clearly visible across the moats. A docent couldn't wait to tell us about the tailless peacock that narrowly escaped complete mastication when it inexplicably flew into the tiger area, bonked its head, and had its tail chomped by last year's cub!
The newest attraction, opened last fall, is a spectacular Arctic environment. The animal exhibits are complemented by displays of Inuit life and art. We escaped the summer heat into an air-conditioned underground, underwater tube. There we looked at some lovely animal drawings and carvings while we Sea lion watched the seals playing gracefully in their pond.
The Detroit Zoo has been allowed to breed polar bears, and they are hoping their two males and five females will produce some cubs. The mating season had just finished, and the docent was hopeful. We looked out from a partially underwater viewing room at a pair. The male paced relentlessly back and forth on the top of the rise (with patches of white rock that looked like ice), keeping an eye on the other male across the impassable ditch.
But it was the 600-pound young female we watched, as she stepped off the land into the water and paddled around just a foot or two from the fascinated spectators. She kept her head under water most of the time, and navigated skillfully with her thick furry paws. Perhaps she gazed with interest through the transparent tube at the seals, but they did not seem to be bothered. Female polar bear
The zoo had a park-like appearance, with a large central lake and an enormous sculpted bronze fountain in the shape of two bears facing one another.
The reptile house had enclosures, of course, but they were large and well fitted out with natural-looking jungle, desert, forest, or wetland surroundings. A crocodile lay near the water, mouth agape. One of the visitors eagerly volunteered a lot of information about a tiny chameleon.
The zoo attendants and docents were universally friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be working there. We left before we had done the complete tour, because of the heat and the hour -- well past lunchtime -- but we'd happily go back.
Later, stopping in a store near our hotel, we asked the checker if she had been to the Detroit Zoo. She hadn't. We told her about the polar bears, and how nice it was. "I like zoos," she said, "I think I'll go there."
She thought for a moment and then asked: "Do they have any dinosaurs there?"