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A great trip to the Franklin Park Zoo

Sep 3, 2020 6:43 PM

Photo Essays

I have walked through this grand entrance to the Franklin Park Zoo countless times. As a really little kid, I loved coming to see new things every time — it’s where I first saw lions, giraffes and tigers. As I got older I kept coming back, with little cousins and friends, and every time I had a new experience or learned something new about some other, lesser-known animals. Yet, during quarantine, it has become even more: a great experience that although different, still remains largely intact.

The first stop of today was at the Zoo’s camels, a somewhat unappreciated animal whose strange biology I always like to marvel at, especially when I captured an interesting angle of two overlapping. Where the first camel begins and the other ends I can’t be sure.

Next up was the Red River Hogs. It wasn’t until a year ago that I even knew of their existence. They live off in their own wing of the Zoo that I’m sure I ran past as a little kid because I was more interested in seeing the lions. Now, I really enjoy seeing these overlooked animals. This time, one decided to walk right up to the fence where I was standing and start squealing at me.

Around the corner, fenced off in front of the lion exhibit, stood a stone tower. I can only guess that I must have walked past it a dozen times. Its plaque explained how the "folly" was built long before the zoo, and was left there as decoration. It is anywhere from 200-300 years old.

With the Zoo’s ever-changing exhibits, I got to see a recent pairing of animals. A new zebra and giraffe were both introduced into the same enclosure. While the older giraffe could not have cared less about the foreign zebra, the newer one was fascinated by him, following him around wherever he went.

One of the most recent additions to the Zoo — a baby red panda — has become the mascot of the entire place in the past year. It has been featured in flyers, posters, and even signs about social distancing. In another example of coexisting, both the baby and his mother live side by side with a muntjac, a sort of pygmy deer. However, the highlight of my time at this exhibit was getting to capture this image, right as the baby went to pounce.

Although the zoo experience has not been dulled by the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been some strange effects. One of the oddest, yet most entertaining moments of the day was the rat invasion of the prairie dog exhibit. At first, I pointed one out as it quickly scurried across the exhibit. Then, more and more started appearing, snatching the food, and quickly retreating back into the maze of tunnels. After asking one of the keepers, it turned out that the rats had snuck in during lockdown, and have managed to evade capture since, popping up only to grab food and then disappear. The prairie dogs seem oblivious and unbothered.

One of my favorite animals to visit recently has been the tapir. As an endangered animal, Abby lives alone but is always happy to see people — as evident in the big grin she gave me today. That’s why I am very excited by the announcement that she is pregnant with twins. This extremely rare occurrence is believed to be a first for this unique species.

On my final stop of the day, I was able to visit the gorilla enclosure, which until a week ago had been closed due to the pandemic. I have always enjoyed being able to see this family of gorillas who always seem happy and very well taken care of. However, I cannot help but feel struck by how human they are.

As I leave, I realize that what’s important to me is making sure that I can come back for years to come. So in these times, after staff have spent months working and supporting the animals with no people coming in, it is incredibly important to support the Franklin Park Zoo. Whether you want to have a nearly normal day outside or want to learn something new — it's worth a trip.