Central Park, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, OH MY!
The New York Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society and was one of the first conservation organizations in the U.S.
The Society began with a clear mission: Advance wildlife conservation, promote the study of zoology, and create a first-class zoo. In fact, there are actually five: the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium.
I will be honest, Noah and I have only visited two so far – the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo. Due to COVID restrictions and the need for prior reservations, it takes advanced planning to go. However, it can be accomplished, and having more open space is nice.
Since we are new to the city, we wanted to take this first year to explore everything that we could find so that we could recommend our favorite places. So, we bought a couple’s full access membership with WCS for $200 for the entire year. We spend enough time at Central Park that having ease of access to stop by the zoo and see the sea lions will make it worth it.
I AM NOT A ZOO PERSON!
If you are firmly against zoos, I understand. As a child, I would cry as I walked by and saw the large animals that had been captured in wildlife and put in a small cage for human entertainment. I don’t believe that any life exists solely for our pleasure.
However, I will say that I believe animal conservation has come a long way. I believe that zoologists and conservationists try to have the animals best interest in mind, and zoo habitats have changed drastically since I first visited a zoo in the early 90s. Many of the animals were born in captivity, some are in rehabilitation programs, and many are educators – injured to the point of not being able to return to the wild and in need of constant care.
Is the system perfect? No… In fact, the Bronx Zoo was sued last year for keeping a sole elephant, Happy, alone in her habitat. Protestors chanted, “Happy isn’t happy!” However, the Bronx courts ruled in favor of the zoo. Even though Happy’s partner and child have both passed away, she isn’t showing signs of psychological stress. In fact, the zoo claims that she would likely be more unhappy if she was taken away from her caretakers who have been in her life for nearly 40 years.
The zoo has also ended the polar bear exhibit after the last bear passed away in 2017. They have also promised to end the elephant exhibit after Happy passes. There is understanding of the need to promote animal wellbeing, but they have to make changes at the right times. Transporting an aging elephant to a new location with no one she knows would be equally cruel.
The WCS is working diligently to maintain forested areas, promote conservation of oceans and landscape, protect wildlife and wildlife sanctuaries/refuges, and support science that will make animal life better. Membership not only supports the local NYC zoos, but also all of these initiatives.
And, the educational experience at the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo are unparalleled.
The Central Park Zoo
First opened in 1861, the Central Park Zoo is one of the oldest in the United States. It’s tiny footprint is only 7 acres, yet features a tropic zone, a temperate territory, and the polar circle! The primary attractions are the Sea Lions at the entrance, the 74 penguins in the polar circle, and the 23 different species of waterfowl. Children also love the Tisch Children’s Zoo, where they get to meet common farm animals and domestic animals in an intimate setting.
This is a wonderful stop if you are touring Central Park, or just on a weekend respite from the city. It is a quick stop, a short visit (30-45 minutes), and a nice place to see the more domesticated/trained animals in the WCS system. The California Sea Lions love greeting visitors and often put on a spontaneous show, just for fun. They remind Noah and I of our time around Monterey Bay.
The Bronx Zoo
Home of Animal Planet’s The Zoo, as well as the flagship for the WCS, the Bronx Zoo is quite overwhelming. Opened in 1899, this park spans a whopping 265 acres and is home to more than 6,000 animals. In 1916, they also opened the first modern animal hospital in the United States!
Yes, this zoo has nearly every climate found around the world. Yes, they also take care of more than 700 species of animals. Yes, it’s nearly impossible to see the entire park in a single day.
There are special activities at the Bronx Zoo as well. If adrenaline is more your speed, there is a treetop ropes and Zipline course in the park. There is also a Wild Asia Monorail and a few select rides for children. Around the holidays they even light up with park with holiday lights, lanterns and treats! Some have said it’s the best holiday light experience in all of New York. I’ll report back after we have a chance to check it out next year. 😉
The Gorilla Forest is also something we didn’t get to do, but it is top of our list for next time…It looks amazing.
However, I think the coolest thing that WCS is doing at the Bronx Zoo is the Wild Encounter Program. From $120 – $330, you and your family of six can have one-on-one interaction with a zoo staff member and an animal group of your choice, ranging from giraffes to cheetahs to rhinos to sloths and many more! The purpose of these encounters is to show visitors the importance of conservation, the animal’s natural behaviors, and to promote further conversation and wild habitat restoration around the world.
On Our Way…
We still have a lot to learn and a long way to go with animal rights and conservation. Many animals, including several of the species at the NYC Zoos, are endangered and numbers are still rapidly dropping. If conservation programs like WCS can support and maintain wildlife habitats, while teaching all of us about the natural world around us, I’m all in. I know that there are still things they could do better, but I believe that they’re trying to do their best for now, righting the wrongs of our past, and paving the way to a better future for wild animals and natural habitats around the globe.
And, if all of that doesn’t resonate with you, go for the entertainment, and maybe (hopefully), the education will help change your mind.
Other NYC Ideas!
Check out our previous posts for other NYC neighborhoods to check-out!
- Long Island City, Queens
- North Fork, Long Island
- Red Hook
- Rockaway Beach
- Murray Hill and Midtown East
- Central Park
- Discover the Best NYC Landmark and Lookout – Just For You!
- Spookiest Spots in NYC
- Sleepy Hollow
- New York Botanical Garden
- Tea Tasting in Soho and LES
- Toasting Holiday Spirit in NYC!
More coming each week!
And…it’s 2020…So, here’s my weekly reminder.
Should I Come to New York in 2020?
If you are living outside the Northeast, the answer is still, sadly, no. For more on this, check out our other posts on 3 Months of New York City, Riding the Second Wave, Wandering and Wondering in NYC, and New York: Awakening from COVID-19 Slumber. Although the numbers are starting to climb again, New York still seems to be under control (at this point). The government is doing its best to make sure it stays below a certain percentage. With so many people living in such a close proximity, pandemics are especially lethal here.
***UPDATE*** Starting on November 4th, the mandatory 14-day quarantine has ended! New York is moving to a test-based travel restriction. You have to show a negative COVID-19 test result from the past 72 hours upon arrival, then, three days after arrival (and quarantine), you have to receive another test here. If it’s negative, you’re good to go. If it’s positive, you must continue to quarantine. So, this means shorter quarantines (yay!), but two tests… Stay home if you can…If you can’t, you’ve been warned!
Wait this one out…New York will still be here when the dust settles.
As always, don’t forget to Toast The Moon to all of your international travels by visiting our store, and make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and the ‘gram to catch all of our latest posts and adventures!
Stay in your region this year, stay safe, stay distant, and be like the NYC statues – wear your masks! We’ll see you on the other side.
Noah and Majhon