(Updates: Sadly, Ida the polar bear was euthanized in early June 2011 after developing liver cancer. Gus, known for his neurotic swimming habits, was euthanized in August 2013 after developing an inoperable tumor in the thyroid area.)
Like an endless Groundhog Day of winter snow, sleet, and ice, New Yorkers may finally be settling into patterns of adaptation to our polar climate. The novelty of the deep snow has long worn off, the winter wonderland seems a little less wonderful, and life goes on. Boots are pulled on, parkas zipped up high, and it's time to depart the igloo for the office. Perhaps now is an opportune time to check in on our most acclimatized Manhattan neighbors and pick up coping tips for life during the wintery blasts.
The Central Park Zoo, while a varied artificial environment within the larger artificial landscape known as Central Park, nevertheless provides a good home for polar bears, snow leopards, red pandas and other creatures, especially if nature helps out with a bountiful snowfall. During a recent Sunday visit to the park's Polar Circle, everyone seemed fine, kind of mellow, and even nonchalant about the weather. Gus and Ida, the park's two popular polar bears, slept off the afternoon, sunbathing on blankets of snow on separate rocky outcroppings.
A couple of snow leopards, normally accustomed to the mountains of Central Asia but now seemingly well adapted to the exhibit built for them in 2009, engaged in more alert activities than the bears. One crouched regally on a tree limb, frozen in position, the kind of stillness that precedes a lethal pounce. Another snow leopard, curled up right next to the viewing glass wall that separates them from their human visitors, ignored the small children banging on the wall and proceeded with the necessary business of cleaning its paws and tail.
Moving around the Polar Circle, the large party of snow monkeys spent their time engaged in mutual grooming, dozing off under rocks, or lounging in the hot tub. Nearby, in the battle for cuteness, and winning, a red panda practiced its balancing act on top of a snow-covered tree stump. In all, many of these beautiful creatures have escaped the hunter or have lost their natural habitats due to deforestation and climate change. Let's not begrudge them for their seeming idleness, their expensive Fifth Avenue real estate and Central Park views.
Meanwhile, to paraphrase E. E. Cummings, there's a heck of a good party going on in the zoo's tropical rainforest next door. Let's go.
Central Park Zoo's winter hours are 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily. Directions and visitor information may be found at the official website.
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from January 30, 2011.