Bridgeport (Google Maps Location)
September 20, 2008
Connecticut only has one zoo, thankfully. You see, Hoang and I do have ethical issues with zoos – especially ones that don’t go full bore trying to best replicate the animals’ natural environs. But, on the other hand, we both love seeing animals and really… is there anything better for a toddler than a zoo? It is sometimes difficult to find things that Damian truly enjoys due to his disabilities to be honest. And while he had a few outbursts at the zoo, it was a great trip overall.
Even better? We had free tickets once again. Bridgeport is an enigmatic city, certainly not most well-known for zoos and green spaces – and yet, it’s nickname is “The Park City,” a fact many people will find hard to believe. However, I’ve enjoyed my trips to the city and look forward to more down the road.
The zoo and former Bridgeport mayor PT Barnum have a shared past. You see, in 1878, James Beardsley, a wealthy cattle dealer, donated over 100 acres to the city of Bridgeport. Then, in 1884, the city contracted ol’ Frederick Law Olmsted to create a design for Beardsley Park. Mr. Olmsted’s plan was to create a simple, rural park for the residents to enjoy.
At the time of the park’s creation, Mr. Barnum usually exercised his animals through the streets of Bridgeport, and it was common to see zebras and camels walking up and down the city’s Main Street. After Beardsley Park was created, Mr. Barnum and the circus company began exercising the animals there.
In 1920, Bridgeport Parks Commissioner, Mr. Wesley Hayes, began a campaign to create a City Zoo within the Park. He requested that the citizens of Bridgeport contribute animals to start the zoo. In the first year there were eighteen exotic birds donated. Barnum and Bailey Circus also donated some of their retired animals to the zoo.
Fast forward a lifetime and in 1997, the Connecticut Zoological Society, a nonprofit support group for the zoo, purchased the zoo from the city and continues to run the zoo as a private, nonprofit institution with assistance from the State of Connecticut and the City of Bridgeport. Which, upon entry into the zoo, is the first sign that greets visitors:
Not exactly the excitement we were looking for off the bat. Now bats… they would be cool. Maybe some of those huge fruit bats from Indonesia… Nah, we got an Andean Condor welcoming us. There are a couple little photo ops to begin with and I must say… I’m proud to have a near-Condorean wingspan:
A few step further in, Damian did his peacock impression:
Okay, so the Beardsley Zoo wasn’t a hit for him right away. And, if you haven’t figured it out by now, this will certainly be a picture-heavy page as really, all zoos are pretty much the same and it’s not like I was scurrying about taking notes. I’ll just be walking you through the zoo in the order we enjoyed it. So let’s get going…
We passed some buildings which we’d be seeing on our way out later. The first animal exhibit after the condor contained a couple wolves. Timber wolves to be exact. We viewed them from the safety of a little explanation hut which contained a ton of wolf related material. It was all rather interesting, but Damian was still figuring out where he was, so it was time to move on.
To the Red Wolves! And then over to the maned wolves! The maned wolves were really cool; which of course means I have no pictures of them but just imagine a giant red fox that will eat you. I really enjoyed watching these guys fight and yelp. The next exhibit was a bit of a mystery:
Hm. It’s easy to make fun of stuff like this I guess… but I won’t. The website calls this area “New Exhibit Construction” and I won’t point out that it doesn’t look as though so much as a rake has touched that “exhibit” for three years. We continued walking. (It should be noted that Damian did awesome walking all day here – up and down steep hills and for him, the amount he walked was impressive. I believe he also stepped up and down steps for the first time unassisted at the zoo too!)
Just past the “Look what grows when you let it” exhibit area is the fun prairie dog set-up. Everyone loves cute little prairie dogs scurrying about and this exhibit was cool – you could walk “inside” a community and watch them doing whatever they do underground to an extent. And, if you’re really lucky, you may catch a glimpse of an elusive Prairie Hoang:
Now at the northernmost point in the zoo, we were a bit startled to see a few large bison roaming the hills. After those guys, we were treated to… a turkey vulture? Yeah, we were. I don’t really know why, as they are everywhere, but seeing him up close was a bit intriguing.
This is a theme here at the Beardsley – relatively common animals on display – as you’ll see in a bit. First it was time for some pronghorn antelope up a dusty hill followed by your run-of-the-mill Andean Bear. Andean Bear!? Awesome! I suppose this should be added to CTMQ’s official Bears! List.
It the only species of South American bear, found in a narrow strip running from western Venezuela through the Andes in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and ending in Northern Argentina. It is the least carnivorous bear species, favoring fruits, berries and roots. As an omnivore, however, the species will also eat the occasional meat. In very rare cases, in some parts of Ecuador, there have been incidents of bears attacking livestock. The reason for this is believed to be a lack of food in the forest forcing bears to search for food elsewhere. Once a bear has eaten meat, they often get a taste for it and return to hunt again.
As bears aren’t natural born killers like felines, they don’t go for the jugular for a quick kill and easy meal. The bears actually tend to jump on the cows back and take chunks out of the tender shoulder region whilst the cow is still alive. If the cow survives this attack, then they will certainly be killed by the bears immense force shattering the animals skeleton as is dragged back to the cover of the forest.
I had to include that last paragraph as the imagery it conjures is just too cool to leave out. Oh, and they are also a threatened species, as you could have guessed.
Oh, we’re just getting started… There’s a decent River Otter cage and a Lynx that was hiding from us. Damian particularly enjoyed the Walk-through aviary which was followed by the alligator tank. Speaking of aviaries, the entire zoo is one of a sort as 12 peacocks roam the grounds freely – as they’ve done since 1922.
After a jaunt past some foxes, we hit one of the highlights of the zoo: The Amur Tigers! The Amur (or Siberian) Tiger is the largest living cat in the world. The males can tip the scales at 800 pounds. The name “Siberian” is actually incorrect because these tigers do not live in Siberia but the Russian Far East in the Amur-Ussuri region of Primorski and Khabarovski Krais (States) and a few are found across the border in northern China and Korea.
Now about halfway through, we took a break for lunch near the Peacock Cafe which is adjacent to the Peacock Pavillion. While just a rumor, I heard the peacock patties are delicious. Just don’t tell the guy above.
At this point, for some reason, Damian decided he was going to push his stroller for a while, which was cute but also rather slowed us down. Oh well. The Bug House was unfortunately closed which we remarked was odd because really… How hard is it to maintain bugs?
We quickly forgot about that upon entering the Reptile House. (This, just after the somewhat lame Wildlife Pond which is essentially a display of our backyard. Oh yeah, there were also some porcupines here too, which Hoang was obsessed with for some reason. I guess because she’s never had to chase them away from her tent at 5 AM once in the Berkshires while they were chewing on her boots during her Appalachian Trail hike. There’s that… And the fact that she chose to sleep in at the Crater Lake Lodge in Oregon instead of taking some great sunrise pictures with only a porcupine for company.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, the Reptile House. I’ll let some pictures do the talking:
Pretty much the same as many nature centers to be honest. Up next was the equally mundane “New England Farmyard.” I say mundane because again, we are fortunate enough to have Westmoor Park out our back door which houses all the same animals. It did, however, afford us all the following photo series:
(I taught him that “sign.”) Also in this area were several goats which we deemed, “Ghetto Goats” because of their abhorrent living conditions. I mean really… Do goats play basketball or something?
Damian yelled out to protest their environs:
We ambled through the Wildlife Pond again (Damian still pushing his stroller while carrying his cookie bag) before checking out Hoang’s favorite animals of the day: The Chacoan Peccaries. These odd looking creatures were assumed extinct until 1975 when a thriving population was found in cental South America – making them one of the last large mammal discoveries (by non-native man). They eat cacti and shoot stinky secretions from their butts. And they look funny.
Our last animal exhibit for the day was the Rainforest Building. Despite being tired, this was Damian’s (and many other kids’) favorite spot at the zoo. Filled with all sorts of small monkeys, tropical birds, amphibians and his favorite of all – an ocelot, Damian was in heaven.
I don’t have all the names of the animals in there, but there were many. The birds flitted about above our heads as the monkeys screeched and flung themselves about. The little marmosets were a big hit of course. But it was the ocelot which captivated our son for an eternity. It was fun to watch his excitement each time the big cat wandered near. Again, I’ll stop yapping and share some pictures – even the bad ones.
A parrott and a tortoise
Damian and iguana
After all that fun, we stumbled upon the Beardsley Zoo Carousel Museum before strolling through the huge greenhouse on our way out.
It is one of the largest greenhouses in Connecticut, with one half open to the public and the other half devoted to plant propagation for the Zoo’s many exhibit needs. On the public side, visitors enjoy a lush tropical section with banana trees, birds-of-paradise blooms, interesting cacti, fragrant orchids and many other interesting plant species.
The Zoo’s propagation program grows plants for the Zoo’s many planting beds, wildflower areas, hummingbird and butterfly gardens as well as hardy specimens that are rotated through the Zoo’s animal exhibits. Monkeys swinging through trees and colorful birds clipping twigs for nests are enjoyed by our Zoo visitors, but those same animals create havoc for the Zoo’s horticultural staff! Plants that are badly pulled, chewed, and ripped out by our animals are routinely (and patiently!) replaced by our staff and nursed back to health in the Zoo’s Greenhouse.
And that, my friends, was that. See, Bridgeport isn’t all crack dens and dilapidation – go check it out!