Monday, September 19, 2011

(Animal Kingdom: Nahtazu, A Love Letter)

Recently, J and I did some more exploring of our new surroundings and ventured to the Smithsonian's National Zoo. While most people would consider the closeness of one of the most prominent zoos in America a privilege, it was a realization for me of how truly spoiled I am, all thanks to the Animal Kingdom.

Now before I say too much, let me first preface this by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with DC's National Zoo. The animals seemed perfectly well-cared-for, there was an unreal collection of species including some that even Disney has not procured, and the zoo volunteers were friendly, helpful and more than willing to share their knowledge of the animals. Please take what I am about to write with a grain of salt, knowing that I have been fully Disney-fied.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

During our time at the National Zoo, I got closer to more animals than I ever thought possible; in some cases, if it weren't for the glass, I could have easily reached out and touched them. Being so close to such exotic and rare creatures was really a treat. On the flip side, the way that they were presented to me was somewhat unsettling. Most animals were in very small cages, surrounded by glass or a wire fence. Almost none of them had a lot of space to roam, and their surroundings were very lackluster. I think that this is pretty common at a lot of zoos. Again, the animals did not seem poorly cared for at all. I just longed for the Animal Kingdom way of making the animals feel that they are truly at home.

the ostriches roam on Disney's Kilimanjaro Safari

 At the National Zoo, we got very up close and personal to an ostrich. I have never seen such a magnificent bird up close, it was awesome! There were a number of the animals in the same glass enclosure, and their surroundings resembled that of someone's back yard. They seemed like they were doing OK in there, but it's nothing compared to the very un-zoo-like surroundings for the lucky ostriches at Animal Kingdom.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Flamingos
Animal Kingdom's flamingos on the Kilimanjaro Safari, photo via Flickr.
An up-close visit to the flamingos at the National Zoo

Ihad the same thoughts about the zoo's birdhouse. First off, there was an incredible menagerie of birds and I could have spent a lot more time gawking at all of them. The one that caught my eye was my friend the toucan. What a gorgeous bird. Seriously, is there any way to stop your mind from being transported to a tropical location, or at the very least crave fruit loops when you see a toucan? I think not.

A beautiful, lonely-looking toucan at the National Zoo
I am sorry to say, my friend Toucan Sam looked very lonely indeed. While he did have a nice looking tree branch to perch himself on,  he had no toucan friends to keep him company. He just hangs out by his lonesome all day. Sad Sam :(

It's a tough day at the office for this toucan.

A few...what should I call them? Cages? Displays? Well anyways, a few spots down and there was another toucan, this time with a few small birds in the habitat with him. I was just thinking how much better that was...and then I looked up. Awful, awful 1980s office-like fluorescent lighting lined the ceiling on the cage. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but Disney would never do that. If they did, I believe they would at least try to disguise it.

The elephants roam - and get up close & personal - on the Kilimanjaro Safari.

Am I a zoo snob? Perhaps. It's Disney's fault, they spoil me. Bear in mind that the Smithsonian's zoo is free. It's a fantastic place for children to go and learn all about what's out there in the animal world, which has always been a topic very dear to me. They also do a lot of conservation, as do many zoos, and I think that without them, our animal friends wouldn't be quite so fortunate. So if it seems like I am doing too much complaining, I apologize. My purpose for this entry is to highlight the extra mile that Disney goes to make sure that the Animal Kingdom isn't just any zoo. And I think they do a tremendous job of that.

A prime example of those little details that Disney has perfected.

Attention to detail is my absolute favorite thing about Disney's Animal Kingdom. As far as I can tell, they never let anything go by the wayside. Habitats are perfectly pristine, and transport their viewers to opposite ends of the World. Check out this little beauty - how many times have you walked past this little detail without even noticing?

Do you know where in the Animal Kingdom this is found?

So the next time you're in the Animal Kingdom, remember not to take any little piece of it for granted! It's truly a place to spend the entire day wandering. It's OK if you start your morning with a run to Expedition Everest - just be sure that you come back to the beginning of the park and take your time exploring. You will be amazed at what you find. After all, it is truly nahtazu!

Happy exploring!

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