The big cats at the Bronx Zoo have had a rough 2020 too.
First the zoo was shut down — along with thousands of other gathering places — due to the novel Coronavirus.
Then a tiger at the zoo got sick and tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first positive test for an animal in North America and the first recorded instance of human-to-tiger transmission. Seven other big cats at the zoo caught the virus, including four tigers and three lions.
Thankfully they recovered and everything — or almost everything — looked normal when I visited this week.
One of the awesome things about the zoo’s Tiger Mountain is that it has a trio of viewing ports that provide a prime view of a small pond where the tigers drink, swim and nap.
This tiger lounged in the distance for a few minutes, then got up and gave us a show.
At one point the tiger came right up to the glass and looked at me:
Standing three feet from a tiger is an experience, glass or no:
Not as terrifying as Buddy’s visage, of course, but still something to behold.
The lions were less welcoming. They were clumped up in the shade of an oak tree, snoozing without so much as a tail flick for motion.
Next was a snow leopard. This guy clearly didn’t deal well with a lot of humans gawking at him, and I could only snap a few shots before he retreated back up a hill in his enclosure, where the angle and brush gave him a measure of cover from human eyes.
I also saw him spinning in a circle repeatedly, a sign of zoochosis. I’m not an animal behaviorist and I’m not qualified to judge the work of the Bronx Zoo’s keepers, who obviously care a great deal for their animals. It’s just a reminder that even the best zoos in the world — with entire teams dedicated to things like enrichment and enclosure design — struggle to keep animals healthy and happy in captivity.
Even though the name of their species sounds like an Italian dessert and they’re often mistaken for baboons, Gelada are old-world monkeys native to the grasslands of Ethiopia.
Geladas are the only primate species that are grazers: Up to 90 percent of their diet consists of grass and grass seeds. They’re easily recognizable by the hourglass-shaped furless patches on their chests, and they’re the only monkeys to form “herds” instead of troops, with an individual herd’s size swelling to more than 1,000 at a time.
When Geladas aren’t eating they’re grooming each other. Allogrooming, or social grooming, doesn’t just help monkeys keep their fur neat and free of parasitic bugs — it’s also a way of maintaining social bonds and reducing tension.
When I visited, I saw a male Gelada grooming a female. Female “heart patches” are usually more pale than their male counterparts, except when they’re in heat. So it’s probable that this scene is a bit of foreplay during mating season:
A female on the rocks nearby. The enclosure features a series of cliffs surrounding central grassland, closely mimicking the species’ native habitat:
This bird got within feet of the path adjacent to its exhibit, and its kind seem to have free reign within the park, as I saw another one hanging out in a wooded area earlier.
I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but he was very vocal and insistent about something:
A group of zebras. I think they were sleeping. These four didn’t move a muscle, and zebras are one of a handful of species who can sleep while standing upright.
A brown bear enjoys the warm weather, which topped out at almost 80 degrees. Another bear was nearby, taking a dip in the pool.
And finally, a friendly reminder to the zoo’s visitors: Wear your masks! The zoo enforces an always-on policy for masks, which I think is a reasonable precaution. While masks may not be strictly necessary while strolling down the wide visitor paths of the zoo, viewing spots at popular exhibits can get crowded, and some of them are partially-enclosed.