Without zoos, we’d have to wait for another biblical flood to take place before we could see so many different animals in one place. Even then, the selection process for those who got to see them would be pretty exclusive. I’d probably be too busy being underwater to get to enjoy the spectacle. But we have zoos — zoos like the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, an impressive menagerie which makes for the perfect summer outing.
When I went, I started on the Tropics Trail, a giant jungly enclosure for animals who would hate our winters. Here is the Komodo dragon, the primordial bane of Indonesian goats. He lies on his log or lazes in his light. I noticed that a toddler had dropped his cereal cup in the fiend’s pen. No one had bothered to retrieve it. Fruit bats dangle clustered from their ceiling, flexing their leathery wings while they wait for night, fruit, or ideally both to come.
I love the red panda, which looks too cute for a thing which presumably does in fact exist in the wild somewhere. It looks like a Hello Kitty character come to life. The oafish tapir pokes around with his side-by-side shotgun nose, in search of tapir things. If you like elephants as much as you do pigs but can’t settle on one or the other, the tapir is a compromise made in heaven for you. The birds own Tropics Trail. They’re given free run of the place, and put our drabber birds to shame with their brilliant plumage.
Which is not, to say, that our own birds haven’t got considerable charm. On the nearby Minnesota Trail there are stately tom turkeys, who puff out their bristled chests and fan their ornate tails. One of them had managed to get on the other side of his enclosure, and was sorting out how to get back in. He finally concluded that jumping was the trick. This led one of my fellow zoogoers to coin a phrase I’ll never forget: “trapped outside.”
I saw the brutish wolverine, the nimble otters, and the little lynx with tufts shooting out of his eartips like Tyrolean hat feathers. There were wolves nearby, whom I understand are not dogs but would like to pet nonetheless. They were dozing in the sunlight, breaking occasionally to look around with their citrine eyes. Finally I saw the bald eagles. If you could explain to them that they’re the symbol of the greatest country on earth, they’d probably not care very much. They seemed more interested in how to acquire squirrels.
I next went to see the heartier animals on the Northern Trail. There was the moose, in repose and thought. He’d have been alarmed to learn that there is a model of semi-eaten version of himself in the nearby tiger pen. I did him a kindness and didn’t tell him. I saw a goat-like creature I’d never heard of before — the takin, a sturdy, furry tank which was bouncing up cairns like it had been inflated with helium. The prairie dogs, my grandfather’s old target practice friends, were putting on a show that day. Every couple of minutes they’d stop their scurry to rise up, raise their tiny paws in the air, and squeal in unison. Is this a prairie dog roll call? Or just a fun thing to do? I’ll have to try it with friends one day.
Finally Discovery Bay, where sand tiger sharks circle around an enormous tank. There is a petting area in the middle where you can pat little rays, and seahorses aside who’ve evolved to look like delicate strands of seaweed. My favorite animals in the entire zoo live here. Garden eels, which pop out of the ground like candy canes, were shrinking in and out of their holes and waving around in unison. I read they nearly never leave their holes. If I had a hole as nice as they have, I wouldn’t either.
I passed the snow monkeys on my way out. I waved and said goodbye, but they were impolite and wouldn’t even acknowledge me. That snub couldn’t tarnish such a great day, though.