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People-watching at the zoo

From Sasha Kopf:

People-watching at the zoo

It’s always interesting - and usually frustrating - to watch and listen to the other visitors at the zoo. There’s always someone else there who really appreciates the experience and wants to learn more about the animals, but it seems like for every visitor who takes that attitude, there are a dozen more who, really, all you can think is, “Explain to me again why you paid the admission fee?”


There are always a lot of parents at the zoo whose kids are excited and interested, but the adults squander that opportunity. Being around the tapirs, for instance, children will run up to the window and ask enthusiastically, “What is that?” Instead of reading the signs to find out more and encourage their kids, a lot of parents will just say that it’s an anteater or an elephant or a pig, stare for a few seconds, comment about how ugly it is, and start to wander away while the kids are still interested.

Adults will be talking on their phones, complaining to the people on the other end that none of the animals are awake (which, in my experience, is never even true), and ignoring both the animals and the children’s fascination with the animals.

The little kids are usually much more engaged and respectful - most of them appreciate looking at the animals and ask lots of questions. Sure, a lot of them don’t understand that they shouldn’t tap on the glass and stuff like that, but it’s all just run-of-the-mill kid stuff. I just feel bad for the ones whose parents are hurrying them along and not helping them to make the most of the day.

Michael and I have heard some pretty great comments from little kids around the tapirs. Actually, they’re not even little kids so much as toddlers and babies. One time, a boy who was just learning to talk pointed at the tapir and called out, “Kitty cat!” Another time, a mother pointed and asked her baby, “What’s that?” and the baby responded, “Duck!”

When we went on Monday, we were in the exhibit with the nocturnal animals where there is a tiny tree anteater called a tamandua. A little boy looked at its long snout and whispered to his mom, “It looks like a tapir!” Michael and I completely freaked out.

Surprisingly, it’s often teenagers who are the best zoo visitors - in particular, teenage boys. On a couple of our trips, we’ve seen groups of teenagers take this total, unabashed interest in the animals. It’s really sweet.

My favorite incident was this week at the red panda enclosure. There were three teenagers - two boys and a girl - who had been watching them and taking pictures. They were laughing and having fun, and the girls were gently teasing the boy because he didn’t want to move on and see other animals. He was so excited about the pandas and told his girlfriends, “No, see? They’re great! They’re my friends! That one? That’s my best friend!”

So, I know teenage boys get a bad rap. But maybe that’s just because they don’t get to the zoo often enough.

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