An Urban Safari

An Urban Safari


Not everyone has the funds (or guts) to travel around the world and see firsthand the natural diversity of planet Earth. Accredited institutions like the National Zoo serve a twofold purpose: to bring the world's flora and fauna closer to home and to educate the public on conservation efforts. In big cities like D.C., the transition from the urban environment to jungles and deserts is particularly stunning. And while this place pales in comparison to the World Famous San Diego Zoo (just a *wee* bit of bias), there are still things about the National Zoo that I found quite captivating. 

Aquatic Oddities

From an evolutionary perspective, life began in the ocean. Prehistoric seas teemed with  fish that looked like pancakes, brightly-coloured mollusks, and very awkward sharks.


Then, a couple hundred million years ago, comes this cute little guy:


Meet the horseshoe crab. Their name is a bit misleading. They aren't exactly crabs but they are closely related to crustaceans.  I have always found these things to be really cute for some reason. I guess I like the way they just scuttle along the seafloor being awesome bros and whatnot. Also, their blood is blue and is used to test for toxins in human vaccines. What's not to like?

Now for something a little less cute and cuddly. Everyone's heard stories about piranhas ravenously stripping down cows and other unfortunate beings (read: humans) to the bone in the Amazon.  I can think of at least four horror movies featuring killer piranhas. 

If you ask me, these poor little guys get a bad rap. When a piranha is isolated  you would notice that it is more shy than bloodthirsty. It took a little patience to get a picture of the little guy below because he kept darting away from me in a panic. The reason they are connected to attacks on humans is simple: they hang around docks where people are cutting up fish, leaving blood and entrails in the water that draws them out. Human beings also eat piranhas, so to me there seems to be a bit of a role reversal in Hollywood.


On a Grand Scale

Where do people get the idea that snakes and other reptiles are slimy? If you've ever felt one, you would know the fact of the matter is they feel quite the opposite. Your purse isn't slimy, is it (I hope that it isn't made of real animals, however)? My childhood dream to become a paleontologist has now manifested itself in a  love for all things scaly. Coming in a range of shapes, sizes, and colours, the Reptilia class is surely one to marvel.


Chameleons: one of the few animals that can stare at you and the ceiling at the same time.

Indian gharials are stunning, but sadly are critically endangered. Don't worry; their long snouts are meant for fish, not people.

The Komodo dragon is probably the closest thing we will ever have to Godzilla (bar crazy scientists) their mouths are teeming with millions of bacteria, and one bite from a dragon would lead to a very wicked infection. Pucker up?

 

Flightline

I love birds, but they always take the most patience and luck to get good photos of them. Naturally, the wired cages that many zoos house them in doesn't really help much. The solution? Get as close to the cage as safely as you can then zoom in as much as you can on the bird. If your camera has a macro mode or a portrait setting, using either of those will help as well.



Indian peafowl males are peacocks and females are peahens. Clever, huh?

While the giant panda may be an endangered species, one would consider it lucky after learning about the fate of the Micronesian Kingfisher. After ships introduced the brown tree snakes into Guam, this bird and many other species on the island faced a new predator that had no natural predators on its own. There are only around seventy of these birds in existence today.

The most metal bird in existence, the Cassowary is a part ostrich, part velociraptor, part sharkfin, and part Bruce Lee. Its huge claws and long legs make it a kicking fiend.

 

Hooves, Trunks, and Paws

And now we get to the mammals. I never really paid attention to mammals in the past, but the collection at the National Zoo has made see how unique this class of animals can be.


Przewalski's Horses are the only horses to never have been domesticated by human beings, roaming free in the deserts and hills of Mongolia. I named this one Butterscotch.

In one corner, the Indian elephant, one of the largest land animals on Earth. On the other hand, a local deer. Who shall stand their ground? Who shall come out victorious in this war of the herbivores? I mean it has to be the elephant. It's so large and all how could it possibly-

Oh. Okay then.

On the weekends, the zoo puts two Andean bear cubs on display. They were both quite active and funny, but be advised that since the zoo is undergoing construction, they are currently located in a very far off part of the zoo with only long path in and out.

Where's Pumba?

It started to rain when I got to the Big Cats exhibit. This tiger here was growling because it wanted to get inside.

Of course, how could I talk about the National Zoo without mentiong the giant pandas? Going by the long line that formed in the hot, bamboo-filled viewing area, I can safely say this was the most popular attraction. I wish I could be a panda. It's the perfect life, getting to sleep and eat all day while people line up to adore me and take lots of photos. 

If pandas were smarter, they'd ask for merchandising rights. There's a gift shop close to their exhibit which is a panda lover's dream. It's quite a sight, really.


If you haven't gotten a chance to see the National Zoo yet, I think this place warrants at least a few hours of your time in our nation's capital. It's free, has interesting animals, and at the least can serve as a pleasant walking or jogging session. Go for it! Step out of the urban jungle and see the wonders of the natural world.

 

Metro Music!

Jason Aldean ft. Ludacris, "Dirt Road Anthem"


nomico, "Bad Apple!!" [Touhou Project]

Les Rhytmes Digitales, "Music Makes You Lose Control"

Jawbreaker, "Bad Scene, Everyone's Fault"

Experience a Day in the Life of an Intern at The Washington Center

Learn More