At the Zoo

I’m unreasonably excited to visit the zoo. We haven’t been in years though, when the kids were little, we went to Artis almost every week. But neither nostalgia nor a new-found interest in the animal kingdom is making my heart beat faster. It’s the prospect of an outing in lockdown week 13.

There are, of course, restrictions. The indoor attractions like the houses for monkeys, insects and snakes will all be closed as will any partially enclosed spaces. Paths that do not allow for visitors to pass with a meter and a half between them will all be turned into one-way routes.

Our idea is to pretend we’re back on the road. I take my notebook; my husband brings something to read. When we get tired of wandering around the zoo, we’ll sit on a bench to read or write.

New Paths

The plan fails the minute we arrive. In honor of the coronavirus, the zoo entrance is roped off so that the public can socially distance while lining up. You need a reservation, too, for all members of your party no matter how young they might be. But if you’re a zoo member like we are, you get to jump the line.

Once inside, the African savanna is still the first attraction. The camels, however, look a little worse for the wear. I guess they, too, suffer from lockdown hair. Normally, we would head straight ahead to the alpine mountain goats. But there’s a route now that all visitors must follow.

African savanna at Artis Zoo
Lockdown hair. Photo credit: Karen Kao

What a difference from when we were at the Osaka Aquarium. There were crowds everywhere. Mostly Japanese, young and old, but there were plenty of foreigners, too. Asian parents who spoke to their children in heavily accented English; children who snapped back in American slang. Osaka is not a big tourist destination but it does have a large foreign population dating back from the days of the Korean occupation.

Zoo Patterns

Since the borders reopened for European travelers, I’ve only seen a few intrepid Germans though not during our visit to the zoo. Tourists bike around town, get high on weed, fall into the canals. No tourist comes to Amsterdam to visit the zoo.

giraffe and zebra at Artis Zoo
Patterns. Photo credit: Karen Kao

About half of the visitors on our day at the zoo are under the age of 5. They totter about, happy to be released from all parental restraint, and it seems to me that the parents are equally relieved. Artis has several playgrounds dotted about the zoo. They used to be the top attraction for my kids. When the children tire themselves out, there are ice cream carts and benches, though fewer and farther between than I remember.

The top zoo attractions have new stickers on the ground. Visitors are no longer allowed to crowd around the sea lion enclosure. A baby elephant was born last month and would normally be on constant display. Now, visitors can only catch a glimpse of the young calf if he happens to accompany his mother into the yard.

Outside, the giraffes and zebras obligingly pose for multiple photo sessions.

Artis de Partis

Artis de Partis is the zoo mascot. He was also my avatar —the Curious Monkey — during our trip around the world. My curious monkey is looking a little down in the mouth after seven months and eight countries. I thought I could replace him during our trip to the zoo but I forgot to stop at the Artis store. Zoo visits in times of coronavirus do not allow any back-tracking.

Oryx at Artis Zoo
Battling bucks. Photo credit: Karen Kao

So we stop for a while in the wallaby park in honor of our stay in Tasmania. We watch a pair of young bucks vie for the honor of inseminating the female of the herd. There’s a lot of rutting going on at the zoo. ‘Tis the season.

We walk past the bird enclosures on our way out. Vultures as big as me, a splendid peacock, a toucan brilliant enough to grace the front of a cereal box.

They say that when the coronavirus has been beat, there will be a demand for stories of our days in lockdown. Because we will, of course, forget what it was like. We will forget about the lines to get into stores, the face masks required on public transportation, the dragon skin that comes from washing your hands so often. We will think that a day at the zoo, shoulder to shoulder, is the most normal thing in the world.