The Galapagos tortoise lumbers along slowly in its outdoor enclosure at the Phoenix Zoo, plodding in the general direction of its less flamboyantly active companion. As I approach the concrete wall for a look, the enormous reptile pauses, and with stately deliberateness cranks its head around to peer at me with drowsy, eldritch eyes.
"Hello," I say, and the tortoise slowly opens its mouth, wide. It may be a yawn--can tortoises yawn?--or it may be a silent roar of defiance. In any case, it's doing something; it isn't just shut away in its shell, as it so often is, as if in weary disgust at the scrutiny it's under.
The reason for this liveliness, perhaps, is that it's the day after Labor Day, and I'm one of the very few humans who have approached his home to gawk all day long. The kids are back in school, most of the grown-ups are back at work, and while it's hot, it isn't intolerable. So the animals are abroad, and about their business. It's an easy, unstressful day for them, and therefore a marvelous day to go and visit them.
Like so many of the coolest things in life, zoos are often wasted on the young. As temperatures creep downward and the school year cranks up, adults with a fondness for animals should consider playing hooky for a visit to Phoenix's first-rate menagerie. On a weekday, you can feel as if you have the place to yourself--I saw maybe 10 other guests as I strolled the grounds.
The lions, however, were fully visible, as were the giraffes, a pair of glorious, mud-caked rhinos and a Sumatran tiger. The bald eagle might have been sitting for a stamp painter. Even the usually elusive bobcat snoozed out in the open.
Another reason to visit the zoo is for the possibility of catching a glimpse of two success stories from the facility's busy breeding program: a several-month-old anteater, and a nearly newborn gerenuk, a species of long-necked East African gazelle.
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Far West Valley zoophiles who might find the journey to Papago Park daunting should consider the fascinating, offbeat collection at Litchfield Park's Wildlife World Zoo. It, too, has had a recent breeding success--twin black jaguars.
--M. V. Moorhead
The Phoenix Zoo is located at 455 North Galvin Parkway, in Papago Park; see Kid Stuff on page 63. 273-1341.