The Audobon Zoo

The first thing you see walking into the zoo from the river cruise entrance are the flamingos. Not especially exotic, but a welcome touch of color after the muddy river...

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This was the aviary -- or one of them, rather. (The one for Australian and Asian birds, I think.) Not a great photo op, but it was cool to be able to actually walk into the building past a plastic drape and not have anything between you and the birds.

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I thought it was a very cute touch for the zoo to decorate the section holding the South American animals as though the visitors were archaeologists trekking through the jungle stumbling across Mayan ruins. The jaguar and spider monkeys were in cages designed to look like ruined temples, and arches and altars and stelae were scattered through that part of the zoo, next to informative little plaques giving snippets of information on archaeology or on the Mayan culture. (Or, in the case of the "temple" across from the jaguar, next to a plaque warning that the gods would be angry if people climbed on their temple and that trespassers would be sacrificed! Well, you can't make something that looks like a playhouse and put steps leading up to it without kids wanting to run up there and check it out... Hence the plexiglass barrier blocking off the stairway.)

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The zoo was so proud of their swamp exhibit that they advertised it all along the riverside walkway near the French Quarter. An enclosure of alligators -- with a cute little Cajun "house" at one edge. (Regrettably I got the photo of the house lopsided, cutting off the sign with "Beware of dog" edited with a different color of paint to replace "dog" with "gator.") There may have been a black bear in another enclosure, but if so it was in hiding. And then there were the raccoons, looking very bored indeed despite the rusted out old car that had been added to their enclosure for verisimilitude. Clearly the entertainment possibilities of a car had not occurred to them, aside from as a shady napping place. They looked far too pettable, too.

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Then I came to the section of the zoo that seemed to be devoted to the African animals -- giraffes, gazelles of multiple varieties, zebras, wildebeasts, and rhinos. There was even a hippo, spinning aimlessly in its pond, a swimmer without enough room to do decent laps in. Oddly enough, there was also at least one bison and a few tortoises. The enclosures were overgrazed and so mostly we saw bored-looking animals lying around staring at nothing -- aside from the giraffes, which were eyeing the visitors as though they were expecting to be fed. This is why zoos can suck. You come away from a Discovery Channel special more enthused for an animal on the other side of the world than you are at the zoo for the zoned-out creature twenty feet away from you in real life -- or at least, I do. Zoo animals are depressing. (Those poor little raccoons!)

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The most interesting animals in the African section weren't even alive. Life-sized statues were scattered through the area. Amusingly enough, someone had hung a few bags from the tail of this running cheetah.

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And why was the cheetah running? To catch the gazelle, of course...

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And then there was the lion trail. A simple path up through the "rocks," not too difficult to climb but enough to make the kids feel adventurous. At the top of the hill was a pride of lions on orange pressure-sensitive mats that triggered roars from hidden speakers when stepped upon. Down the side of the hill was a mini-waterfall and pool (with a few more lion cubs, playing at the side of the pool or falling into the water), which the kids had lots of fun getting soaked in.

Tree.JPG (69170 bytes)Like the lion trail and Mayan temple, the things at the zoo that were the most fun didn't seem to involve live animals. Witness this tree, which had no animal tie-ins whatsoever but which was evidently popular nonetheless. (In passing I heard the plaintive query, "Now how do I get down?")

Orangs1.JPG (22859 bytes)Orang2.JPG (13349 bytes)I passed some signs pointing towards the primate section, but either I didn't follow them far enough or all they had were the orangutans. Two are on the ground eating while another goes for altitude.

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Ah, the reptiles! First a komodo, followed by a Chinese alligator (conveniently posing just above and to the left of its own identifying sign). Then three shots of the anaconda, with the third one being blurred because I tried to get a person in it to show just how *huge* that monster snake really *was*, and they moved -- but you can see an elbow to the right of the pic. Then a python, a crocodile, a tank of baby gators, and three blurred shots of swimming turtles. (Damn, but a couple of those look almost Nessie-like. I fully sympathize with the difficulties of underwater photography of a fast-swimming target in nonoptimal lighting.) Last is an albino rattlesnake, which I got a picture of mostly because I was regretting not having taken a picture of Jolie Blonde, the albino python at the voodoo museum I had a look in Saturday.

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And another aviary. Owl, fruitdove, and toucan. I had a major pain trying to get a decent shot of the fruitdove, which had really nice plumage and was really close to the cage bars but also seemed to be in an inconveniently lit corner. Turned out the clearest shot I got was one with its head tucked back under a wing. Still, a pretty bird.

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The sea lions were really a lot of fun to watch. They had an aboveground tank with a window built into the side and stairs up to a viewing area, so you could be watching them zipping around in the water or look at them from above. They were getting a lot more swimming done than the hippo -- but then, they had more room to do it in, too. They were the last exhibit I saw before heading on back to the dock for the return trip.

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