Day 6: London Zoo
We decided to take a cab to the London Zoo because it was steadily drizzling, and none of us felt up to our usual gymnastics on elevators and escalators with the stroller in tow. Besides, we wanted to remind ourselves of how the city above-ground looked like, because really, the bowels of the earth look very similar whichever country you go to. (It’s black and whizzes past.)
We were quite thrilled at how bad the traffic was (just like home!); and were further rewarded by glimpses of a lot of places we might’ve visited had we enough time.
Once we got there, I asked the lovely lady in a headscarf at the counter if the animals come out in the rain. She didn’t make any false promises but told us a lot of them had shelters you could see into. Well. That just had to be good enough for us. We consulted the map and decided to go into the aquarium first. I wondered aloud to Jeet if Mia would have fun, if she would connect the images of animals that she saw every day in her books with the real thing. Perhaps we shall roll an uncomprehending toddler from enclosure to enclosure, and eventually beat a hasty retreat after she gets fed up and cranky like she did at the museums. (Horrifying descriptions of which are coming up soon.)
“PHISHEEEE!!!” the words reverberated off the walls of the aquarium. “Phishy, phishy, phisheeee!” Several fish ceased operations and looked over their shoulders at the racket. I saw a distinct expression of alarm on a passing squid. There were about 30,000 different types of underwater animals and Mia greeted each individually.
The aquarium was a resounding hit; so we looked forward to how the petting zoo would be received. I had no intention of letting Mia touch any of the animals. (Little Mr. Snot-Boy had done enough to sabotage our trip, I didn’t need pig-induced allergies to aggravate matters.) Fortunately, she seemed to share my opinion; and examined the enormous, hairy pigs rooting around in their enclosure with a dispassionate eye. “Bow-bow.” She declared dismissively.
The goats were disappointing bow-bows too. The camels were, in her opinion, amusing bow-bows.
She firmly disagreed with me when I said the lovely Sumatran tigers were miaow-maows. “Bow-BOW!” she corrected me loudly. (We were not in the petting zoo anymore, in case you were worrying.)
Coming from the land of tigers, and thus an automatic tiger-expert; I struck up a knowledgeable conversation with the zoo-keeper in charge of the big cats. “Excuse me, do these tigers come from India?”
“No, these are Sumatran tigers, they’re smaller and more orange.”
Yes, exactly, I nodded sagely. “The tigers I see in India are much larger, and less orange. Well, I don’t exactly see any walking around you know…just national parks and places.”
She was the fresh-faced, blue-eyed kind of animal expert you always see on the discovery channel. I felt the need to impress. “So,” I narrowed my eyes shrewdly, “do you conduct any breeding programs?”
She enthusiastically explained the various programs they have undertaken. “But.” She continued, “we put them in different enclosures except when our female comes in season because they’re essentially solitary animals. Our male feels the need to keep trying, and our female gets very irritated.”
“Ah,” I said faintly, an appropriate response eluding me. I wondered whether the tigers enjoyed being gossiped about in this fashion, and hurried on to visit the aviary.
A cry of “ka-kaa”, “ka-kaa” would erupt from the stroller whenever we spotted a bird. Mia looked around the moist tropical domes with rapt attention, as ka-kaas danced across our path or flapped overhead.
Further on, the pygmy hippopotamus looked depressed as it inched along. I could empathize. Everyone peering at it and laughing about how fat and funny-looking it was. Mia looked confused and a little upset, like she didn’t know which of her four categories to slot it in. She had the same reaction for the gorilla, who was so human-looking that she probably wondered why the hairy guy was sitting in a tree, eating leaves.
We had had some trouble finding the gorilla enclosure, though we seemed to pass endless monkeys. (Finally some miaow-miaows in a sea of bow-bows, according to our young biologist.) We approached a group of young men in the khaki zoo uniform, who were standing around talking. “Could you please tell us how to get to the gorilla?” we asked desperately. One guy slapped another on the back, “Here he is!” he grinned.
“I mean the one in a cage.”
“This one just escaped!” Twinkling green eyes and a sense of humour. I resolved to be a zoo-whatsit in my next life. However, armed with directions (“It’s right there! You can't miss it...”) we had to satisfy ourselves with a much hairier specimen -- our last call before putting the zoo behind us to visit an old, old friend who lived in London.