Most of the time people’s eyes widen in surprise when I tell them we went to the zoo over any given weekend. “But it was only 25 degrees this weekend!” they exclaim. I think the best time to visit a zoo is in the winter when the cold animals are active, crowds are virtually nonexistent, and the warm animals are often available for viewing in their warm enclosures.
I don’t love the idea of caged up animals, but I do think it’s important to foster a love for animals and see them in person to truly understand their importance and beauty. If I can help my son to understand the needs of these animals and how his actions can indirectly affect them, then I think it’s important to visit zoos and talk about what we can do to help. One day I’d love for him to see these animals in their natural environments – but until then, zoos will help us establish this loving connection.
In the summer when I’m not working we get up early to spend a few hours at the Detroit Zoo. Since we’re early birds this means we can easily avoid crowds and be leaving the zoo as most are arriving. In the winter we still get there early but with a membership it’s easy to justify shorter trips (at least, we always intend to take a shorter trip…and then find ourselves leaving 3 hours later). We dress warmly – I love babylegs under wool longies for my son, thank you cloth diapering for introducing me to the wonders of wool – and warm up at places like the butterfly house, the giraffe enclosure, the penguinairium. Between pushing the stroller and these warm up stops I stay plenty warm, and with his wool clothing and fleece blanket Griffin is plenty warm, too.
Not only are zoos under-appreciated winter resources, but there are still keepers and volunteers present and eager to educate. We’ve spent an hour talking to the keeper of the chimpanzees and learning about the babies are taken care of by the group; we’ve learned about the history of the giraffes at our zoo, and the pending renovations. Because the zoo is empty the keepers give us personalized tours of exhibits and we get to linger extra long without others crowding to see the same view. It’s been an amazing experience each and every trip we’ve made, and every trip has been different. Yesterday I convinced my husband to come with us and we saw red pandas playing in the snow like puppies, our son giggling in delight at the sweet playmates. Who can beat that?