January 26, 2001
The National Zoo
Everyone talks about the giant pandas at the National Zoo. Even my six-year-old nephew can spew out a five-minute oration worth of information on the zoo’s most recent additions Tian Tian and Mei Xiang. And it only took him two of those minutes to teach me how to pronounce their names. I decided it was due time to see what all the commotion was about.
Standing at the top of the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan Metro stop dizzied by a long escalator ride, my friend and I figured the zoo would be easily spotted.
After a few minutes of standing in the cold, my friend finally managed to point to a sign, sitting right in front of our faces, that read “National Zoo” with an arrow pointing in the right direction. We began to walk in the blistering-cold 39-degree weather and realized it was a much longer, uphill trek than we figured it would be.
Finally making it up the hill, we entered the zoo, which was barren and deserted. The trees were leafless, the grass was yellow and there were still patches of snow and ice in places. Worst of all, hardly any exhibits were open because it was too cold for the animals to be outside. Most of them were in their indoor habitats.
But the pandas were still out, and so were some of the animals on the way to the panda line. We passed by some bison and prairie dogs, and made it just in time to catch two dogs sharing a prairie dog kiss. The posters near the exhibit informed us that this is the way the dogs greet each other.
Disorientated, I depended on my friend once again to find the signs that point the way to the panda exhibit.
More posters along the way informed us about the giant pandas from northern China. They weigh between 220-330 pounds and eat bamboo stems and leaves. Giant pandas are an endangered species, whose survival depends on the protection of the bamboo forests in China. Incredibly, they are born the size of a stick of butter and grow to half the size of their mothers in one year.
A crowd was clustered around the panda habitat. The magnificent black-and-white creatures, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, were busy eating bamboo shoots. They looked so warm and fuzzy, like two huge stuffed animals. I had the urge to grab one of them and take it home with me. What a pet one of those would make.
One of the pandas even stretched out on his or her back while eating the shoots, as parents and children let out “oohs” and “ahhs.” Cameras were snapping, including mine – since I had promised my nephew that I would bring him back a picture of the pandas.
But the whole they-are-so-cute-and-cuddly concept escaped my mind with one look at the pandas’ teeth while they chewed their snacks. Their huge white fangs were bigger than my Labrador retriever’s back home. After that display, I think I will just stick to dogs.
After standing in the cold for a few minutes and taking a few pictures, we decided that our fingers were about to fall off and we made our way out of the zoo. We passed some kangaroos and a couple of emus, which did not particularly like us. One of the emus kept pecking at us, and we got the hint. It did not want us there long, so we continued our walk out of the zoo to the Metro station.
The nice thing about the zoo in the winter is that it is too cold for the swarms of bees that infest it during the spring and summer. But it is cold, empty and not so exciting. We plan to take another trip when it gets warmer to see all the animals.