I paid a visit last weekend to the Bronx Zoo, my first in a number of years. I have very mixed feelings about zoos. On the one hand, many of them work for the animals, through their support of habitat-sustainability programs and efforts to protect endangered and threatened species. On the other, I question the ethics of capturing and imprisoning animals for our amusement. There have also been cases of multiple animal deaths in some zoos, calling their treatment of the animals into question.
I was surprised first by the cost of admission. I don’t remember what it cost the last time I was there, and perhaps I got spoiled by the free admission to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, but the sign over the ticket booth shocked me: $27 per adult for the
Total Experience. Below that, it said that
General Admission tickets are also available, and they turned out to be $15 each. We went for that.
Our first stop was the Zoo Center building, which includes a rhinoceros. And it kicked things off to a bad start: a solitary rhino lay supine on a concrete slab, while visitors snapped flash photos of its profile from a short distance away. The animal looked severely depressed, if I may anthropomorphize, and it was certainly a pitiable sight.
Let’s go see the butterflies! They won’t be crammed into a too-small, too-dark enclosure. They’ll be fluttering around, doing what butterflies do. Ah, here it is, the Butterfly Garden. What? Not included in the general admission, this is $3 extra per person.
Next stop, the gorillas. Ho!, but here, again: the Congo Gorilla Forest, home to gorillas, mandrills, and okapi, is another $3-per-person additional charge.
We began to think that the Bronx Zoo is now a pay-by-the-animal place. And we were unhappy.
Fortunately, it got better after that. It turned out that those first two places we went were the only extra-charge animal exhibits in the zoo, apart from the Children’s Zoo section. So we got all the bad-experience stuff hitting us at once. The giraffes, zebras, ibexes, nyalas, red pandas, birds, and lemurs, as well as the lions and tigers and bears, were all freely accessible, and the day wound up being pleasant after all.
I have to wonder, though, about the cost of a family visit. Remember that this is in the Bronx. There are affluent areas of the Bronx, but there are also many poor families there. Two adults bringing three kids for a
Total Experience, plus parking, comes to $130... and that’s before the inevitable and overpriced sodas, hot dogs, ice cream, and whatnot. Wednesdays are pay-what-you-like days, but not everyone has the ability to go on Wednesday, and $150 or more for a day out with the kids is unaffordable for many Bronx residents.