Of the new Bronx exhibits the most publicized and costly is the World of Birds. This is a 30,000-square-foot skylighted aviary displaying 200 species. The building, which was opened three years ago, cost $4 million, donated by Lila Acheson Wallace, a co-founder of
To some, the World of Birds aviary may seem overrated, less effective perhaps than the simpler aquatic birdhouse that has a lovely group of puffins displayed against simulated sea cliffs, over and around which surges an artificial tide. In the World of Birds the lavish plantings sometimes seem to overwhelm the occupants. There is a feeling about the place that it is as much a showcase for money, technology and the designers' arts as it is for birds.
The display signs of the new building are bright and slick and ferociously message-directed. More often than not, the message bears down heavily on the only-man-is-vile thesis of popular ecology. One Bronx sign, appearing just below a mirror, reads, THIS ANIMAL...IS THE ONLY CREATURE THAT HAS EVER KILLED OFF ENTIRE SPECIES OF OTHER ANIMALS.
THE ST. LOUIS ZOO
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the great zoos of antiquity were abandoned. Now and then a potentate or prelate would put together a menagerie, but it was largely for the amusement of the upper classes. However, between 1765 and 1865, as a result of new affluence and geographical and zoological discoveries, public zoos were founded. Many of the best were in European cities—Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Vienna, Bern. The zoological parks became important cultural centers, places where city people congregated, socialized and were entertained.
In the U.S. this old tradition of the zoo as an urban amenity has flourished best in the midland metropolises—Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis—which, not coincidentally, are workingmen's cities with sizable populations of Middle European descent. It is difficult to choose among Midwestern zoos, but any fancier who has missed St. Louis is in the position of a Sherlock Holmes fan who has not read The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Set in Forest Park, the roomy and heavily wooded site of the 1904 World's Fair, the zoo and grounds have a kind of urbanity about them, and the zoo is cleaner than others of its size. The crowds seem to be more leisurely than in Washington or New York and the kids less inclined to throw stones and insults at the animals. There are police, as there must be now in any city zoo, but they are mounted on horses, a touch that helps sustain the gentle turn-of-the-century atmosphere. (Patting a horse still gives city children more satisfaction than kicking a motorcycle.)
All in all, the impression is that Gem�tlichkeitprevails. Nowhere is this agreeability more evident than at the foot of a series of pools and cascades flowing through the main pedestrian mall. The promenade overlooks a pool of incessantly active sea lions. Above, a fine pair of river otters have a clear creek pool and a stretch of lawn on which to scamper and chatter. Across a lake filled with uncaged waterfowl are the Bear Pits, which though built in 1921 are still considered the best in the world. St. Louis being St. Louis, good beer is also served on this terrace. It is a grand place to idle away half an hour.
The style of the exhibits contributes to a sense of spaciousness that causes St. Louis to appear less cluttered and crowded than the Eastern zoos. The monkey house is a good example. The building is dominated by a very large enclosure holding four colobus monkeys—large, showy black and white animals with elegant fringed coats. The cage, a traditional barred structure, is roomy but not fancy and furnished sparsely with swings, limbs and platforms. Small but immaculately clean cages displaying a representative collection of other small primates encircle the rest of the building. However, the colobus monkeys are the focus of the building and give a better sense of "monkeyness" than would be the case if the center piece were divided into smaller alcoves with more species.
St. Louis is not a major research institution, but rather a busy educational center. Some 35,000 St. Louis schoolchildren come to the zoo either for short summer courses or on guided tours. Local universities offer behavior and biology courses, which meet regularly at the zoo. St. Louis has had notable success in managing rare and endangered species. It is the only zoo with a breeding herd of Speke's gazelles and one of the few where black lemurs have been propagated. Recently, a pleasant three-acre tract of woods and grassland was set aside as a Cheetah Survival Center. It is stocked with four of these cats, which are the objects of continuing observation in hopes that information collected may facilitate future breeding. The survival center is an experimental project, but it is also open to the public. No attempt has been made to disguise the Missouri glade as an African scene, and because of this restraint it is one of the more attractive cheetah exhibitions in the country.