At the Zoo

Excited giraffes at the N.C. Zoo, hurrying in slow motion, manage to be awkward and graceful at the same time.

Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it, I do believe it’s true.

Those lines come from one of my favorite albums, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends,” in a song called “At the Zoo.” It’s a fine and fancy ramble of an album.

Recently, for my wife’s birthday, we decided to take their advice and spend a day at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro. We were glad we did. I hadn’t been there since 1977, but know it has a good reputation as zoos go. It was different from what I remembered, but they probably weren’t even finished with it way back then.

I had heard that animals in a zoo tend to be more active in cool weather, and that turned out to be true. It was mid-week, and we had the place to ourselves, which made things even better. No jockeying for a spot to take hurried snapshots; we had ample time and space to linger and enjoy the animals and the views they presented.

The day turned out to be a photo bonanza. It was as if, with few people there, the animals were relaxed and even interested in us. They were clearly enjoying the sunny, 60-degree afternoon. Lani, our friend Lynn and I each took a camera. Repeatedly, the animals stood right in front of us, in a beautiful slanting light for extended periods, as if they were as interested in checking us out as we were them. Or maybe they were just posing. Either way, we came home with cameras full of great shots and a head full of memories.

The monkeys stand for honesty

Giraffes are insincere

And the elephants are kindly,

But they’re dumb.

I’ve never seen a giraffe in habitat. Here, they live in a large space with zebras and ostriches, and on this day the tall guys were literally running all over the place. I’ve never seen a giraffe run before, either, except on “Wild Kingdom.” They are awkward and graceful at the same time. Their legs seem to move in slow motion, but they cover a lot of ground because of size.

A female was apparently coming into heat, and that was causing all the excitement. The biggest bull was chasing the female and two other giraffes at the same time. Their collective dance was nothing short of breathtaking. The zebras hardly looked up at the commotion.

None of us had ever stood within 25 yards of a bull elephant for a half-hour, but on this day, there he stood. And stood. And stood as if we were his guests and he wanted us to know him differently. We felt privileged to be invited. By some miracle, not one other visitor showed up to break the spell. He was right, I’ll never think of an elephant quite the same way.

It was feeding time as we went around, and we were treated to a food fight between troops of baboons. It was hard to know who was fighting whom, kind of like a riot gone mad, but the big dominant males were chasing the others all over the lot, and at least once caught a victim. The shrieking and screaming was something out of a horror movie. What strange animals baboons are, how primitive and utterly wild compared with the calm gorilla family.

Gorillas are a special treat anytime. This day they were out in their enclosed space, munching on lettuce, collards, carrots and assorted other green stuff they like. A young male named Mombassa came over to the viewing window, once reaching to the glass right in front of me. He showed off for 15 minutes, his expressions and behavior almost human. A few minutes later, his mother came over and sat near the viewing window, letting us watch as she ate. One more magic moment in a day full of them.

I could have spent another hour in the aviary, looking for colorful birds hidden in the trees. Some blend into the environment, while others are all show and tell. The sounds in the building were as pleasing as the visuals. It was like listening to a meditation tape meant to calm the tattered soul.

But you can take a crosstown bus

If it’s raining or it’s cold

And the animals

Will love it if you do.

You can’t take the bus, but it’s an easy drive right off U.S. 220 near Asheboro. Tickets are inexpensive, only $10-14 depending on age. With family and friends coming for the holidays, a great option for something to do. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a camera, and enjoy the shared experiences.

Pat Taylor is advertising director for The Pilot. Contact him at pat@thepilot.com.

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