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Gorillas in the Bronx

Many listeners call to get advice on traveling to places like Africa or Patagonia to observe exotic wildlife in its native habitat. Of course, not everyone has the budget, let alone the time, to commit to that kind of a journey, but some zoos in this country create environments that transport you to a wilder place... The Savvy Traveler's Karen Michel went to a relatively new exhibit at the Bronx Zoo...the Congo Gorilla Forest.

Gorillas in the Bronx
by Karen Michel

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Quinn: "This is a real tree -- Colebus monkeys..."

The Congo

John Quinn is the director for design for the Wildlife Conservation Society, the outfit that runs the zoo. To make the Bronx the Congo, local nurseries were tapped, other vegetation was grown: nature was reimagined.

Quinn: "We built...would in nature and explore and look for food and... "

That is, reach over and grab the corner deli fruits and veggies already precut for the primates to nosh.

Quinn: "The animals bite around the labels and, um. But they seem to be very happy here"

As do some some pigs that look like denizens of a starship bar -- via the southern Sahara.

Doherty: "Isn't that a beautiful pig, those big ears!"

Jim Doherty, the general curator of the Bronx Zoo, is fond of all of "his" animals. But the Colebus monkeys and the Red River hogs are the prelude to the "big" attraction: the gorillas. Nineteen of them: among the largest group anywhere other than nature.

Yes, they thump their chests and scratch a lot and do all sorts of very human looking things. An inch and a half of plate glass separates you from them. It doesn't seem like much.


Doherty: "And they're very interested...for them to observe. Come see some gorillas before they go to bed and..."

Jim Doherty wears a tie with wolves, bison, elk, and bears. But he's spent lots of time in Africa, in the Congo, and in the Bronx. Doherty's been at this zoo more than 30 years. He's known most of these gorillas since birth.

Doherty: "Right now, Julia is sitting on our right..."

A couple of hefty apes lounge a few feet back from the glass, while three peer out at the visitors, taking the see, hear and speak no evil poses. The one on the left covers its eyes, that in the middle holds its hands to its ears, while the third clasps a hand -- or is it a paw? -- to its mouth. Life imitates kitsch imitates life.

Voices: "This is a little bit of Disneyland. No, this is the Bronx!"

The animals in this zoo are feisty. What do you expect in the Bronx? They keep munching the thousands of trees and shrubs that were so carefully planted. And selected for their supposed nasty taste. You can take the subway to see this buncha apes.

From the Bronx, I'm Karen Michel for The Savvy Traveler. You got a problem with that?

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