I rode out to the zoo on public transit, which let me stare out the window and observe the city beyond the French Quarter. That city is lush and dense with life, ivy crawls all over everything and regular efforts clearly need to be made to beat back the encroaching greenery to keep civilization in place. Bugs hum and birds chirp out of every nook and cranny. Restaurants selling po'boys and beignets and gator sausage became less frequent, but stayed consistent during the entire bus ride. So did the clubs, bars and coffee shops advertising jazz.
A note on coffee shops in New Orleans: Most of them sell booze too. The distinction between a bar and a coffee shop starts to get pretty academic.
Once I arrived, the zoo was a mixed experience. The first guest I visited was an orangutang - I forget his name. Mostly he was hiding from the fairly intense sunlight inside of a shade structure, but when a group of people started holding out their (empty) hands as if they were offering him food, he crawled out and started interacting with us.
He looked sad, and frustrated. I'm probably anthropomorphizing him, I don't know what orangutangs look like when they're sad or frustrated or happy for that matter. I only know that angry is baring teeth and making lots of noise (and he wasn't doing that). This primate, though, is capable of learning sign language and has a level of comprehension that's way beyond anything else in the zoo with the possible exception of certain parrots (link). He was trying to get us to give him food that he's not allowed to have, and if I were in his shoes I'd also be trying to get some relief from the intense boredom and lack of stimulation. It was fascinating to see an orangutang in the flesh, but it was a conflicted fascination.
There were a bunch of zoo animals... flamingos, turtles, smaller primates, a small group of rhinos (which were pretty neat), some elephants, some giraffes. I didn't think the zoo had any surprises in store for me once I took a picture of a few goats for the teens I volunteer with back home. I was happy that I'd done it but the whole thing left a kind of ho-hum taste in my mouth. I had fulfilled my obligations as a tourist.
Then this happened.
The giraffe pen has an observation area where you can feed them by hand. I missed the feeding time, but that didn't stop the giraffes from coming over to see what was going on.
I've never been face-to-face with one of these things before. Somehow observing the elephants wasn't this... majestic, or this profound. Giraffes are as graceful as horses only they're massive. When I stood there, coming up roughly to the thing's shoulder, I felt like I was in the presence of magical, unearthly giants. I got kind of choked up and I still can't explain exactly why. On film giraffes are a curiosity but in person, their giant black tongues probing out and the strange mottled frame supporting an animal that feels almost impossible...
I just don't know how to say it properly. I was moved. It was such a big feeling that I almost didn't take a picture, out of respect. Giraffes in the flesh are profound creatures to be close to.
I stood there staring at them for awhile. Feeding didn't happen again that day, otherwise I would've probably waited around for hours to have them nibble a branch I was holding. I don't know what makes these animals in particular so significant, but they were. I felt it all the way down to my bones.
That was really the single significant thing that I saw at the zoo. I wandered out, a little bit aimlessly, and stopped just long enough to take one more picture.
A capybara. Presented here simply because it's a capybara, and those things are hilarious.