A Visit to Woodley Park Zoo
Published on Thursday, June 2, 2011 - 11:12am
While walking along Connecticut Avenue for exercise one Sunday afternoon, I decided to pay a visit to the National Zoo in Woodley Park. When I entered the path among the grass and bushes, I felt an immediate sense of release from the stress of the city.
From the first glance at the signs about different species of birds and animals and with the growing sense of the presence of the animals, I experienced a sense of love and kinship with those fellow creatures. Taking the bamboo-arrayed walk to the Panda house, I could see the affinity of human family units walking along the path with the animals they were observing. Pandas are known for their remarkable human-like features. The parents and children who were from all ethnic backgrounds were clearly themselves part of the pattern of nature they were observing. The awe and wonder felt by the children expressed in "wows" and "ahs" indicated how connected they were with their source in the natural world.
What is even better is that this visit of a family to the zoo ostensibly to view animals is itself a human bonding experience that helps forge family unity. One could overhear little conversations about aunts and grandparents that reflected the ongoing family life. For this and many other reasons, it seemed to me that people and animals belonged together. Of course people have the best of the deal because they do not live confined as do the animals. But in an imperfect way the instinctive connection of humans with animals and the natural world is reaffirmed here on the zoo grounds.
I could even see more of this essential relationship between humans and animals when I traveled along the elephant trail. Everyone was leaning on the railing of the path looking down on the elephant area below. The Asian elephants were drinking water with their trunks and eating straw with as much pleasure as humans eat their food. In many ways the crowd was looking in a mirror when viewing the elephants. They were looking at themselves engaged in daily activities but in the form of the beautiful elephants in the park.
Scientists tell us that elephants are much like humans in that they have family relationships and gather in social groups. The families watching the elephants appear to understand this similarity intuitively and show it in the pleasure they take in watching. Finally, I walked down to the quiet precincts of the bird area. Here at the duck pond right before the bird house, I was arrested by the splash of a duck family. In the middle of the shade-dappled pond, a collection of six or seven very small ducks was swimming with a large mother duck leading the way. One could hear the parents calling their children over to see the sight and the enthusiastic response of the children. One could not help but feel warmth not only for the infant ducks and mother but also affection for the children watching who were as tender and helpless as the young ducklings. I could feel what might be seen as a common sense of love that overflowed from the animal realm to the human realm.
In a way, visiting the zoo for an adult is as much an exercise in people watching as it is animal watching. However, I can see that such an attitude is appropriate. Both humans and animals are interesting objects of observation. And both tend to blend into one another for the attentive observer. So if you have the opportunity to visit a zoo, do so even if you are a single adult. You will find richness here difficult to find in human-centered places. One of the best ways to prepare for visiting Woodley Park Zoo is to read about it in the library collection. I recommend two books about this subject: one is the Visit Washington from the DK series: Top Ten Washington D.C. by Ron and Susan Burke. It features Woodley Park Zoo and gives details about its attractions. The second book is a general study of zoos and the quirky things that occur in obtaining specimens: Stolen World: a Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery by Jennie Erin Smith.