I confess, I love visiting the Franklin Park Zoo in winter. True, the giraffes, the budgies, and the other warm-weather animals are in their winter enclosures and off-exhibit. You have to visit the farm animals in the barn, rather than in the much better ventilated outdoor petting zoo. The usually marvelous gardens contain only the dry stalks of last summer’s blooms. The carousel and other outdoor rides are dismantled. And there are no butterflies.
But there are no crowds, either. It feels like we have the place to ourselves (at least until we get to the wonderful new playground near the gift shop). Best of all, because foot traffic is relatively low, the animals seem nearly as interested in seeing us as we are in seeing them.
Animal after animal came up to the front of their enclosures to greet us when we visited this past weekend.
Hey, who’s that?
As we entered the Tropical Forest, we turned around to find Ushindi the mandrill standing on his rock by the glass, staring at us, as if he had been waiting all day for us to arrive. The gorillas were looking for company as well.
“Remember, Mommyo,” The Five-Year-Old warned as we approached Little Joe. “Don’t show him your teeth. It will make him mad.”
I kept my teeth well behind my lips and simply nodded to Little Joe as we passed. I’m guessing the next set of visitors didn’t know that tidbit about the teeth because shortly after we left, I heard a loud bang on the glass and the wail of a frightened child.
Back outdoors, we made a beeline for the tiger enclosure. When we got there, we found Anala (the orange tiger) stationed directly in front of the fence, where she could bask in the attentions of a doting The Five-Year-Old.
When Luther, the white tiger, came over to share in the love, Anala batted him away with a heavy paw and a fierce hiss. “I am the center of attention this afternoon, thank you very much.” Luther promptly retired to a far corner of the enclosure, contenting himself with looking longingly at us from afar.
Anala, meanwhile, settled back into her spot and treated us to a few more minutes of her extreme loveliness.
As The Five-Year-Old was telling Anala all about the tiger she adopted this past week, Christopher Lion began his 3 o’clock roar. The Five-Year-Old’s mind had a question: “Mommyo, what happens when you baa at a lion?”
What happens when you go up to a lion and say “baa”
Fortunately for The Five-Year-Old’s science experiment, Christopher Lion was still roaring away when we arrived.
So The Five-Year-Old baa’d like a sheep to him. Christopher stopped roaring and stared at her. Then he stalked to the front of his enclosure to get a better look.
He mustn’t have been able to see us very well, because he quickly turned to the very large observation window to his right and started scratching on it, as if to say, “Meet me at Camera Three.”
Neither of us had ever seen him do that before. So naturally we raced around to see what he wanted.
Looks like he wanted a playdate. For the next ten minutes, Christopher Lion scratched and rubbed at that window.
Ever the showman, Christopher gave several of his adoring fans high paws.
Every once in a while, he would rear up on his hind legs to give a shout-out to the folks in the back.
The encounter was the highlight of our afternoon.
The only animal who wasn’t all that into us was Ussuri, the Amur Leopard. He had stationed himself on top of his rock where he had an excellent view of the duck pond next door and couldn’t be bothered with us. In his defense, it was almost time for dinner.
Franklin Park Zoo
One Franklin Park Rd., Dorchester, MA.
Hours (through March 31): Daily: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. On April 1, hours return to their summer schedule of 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
Admission: Adults $17, Seniors (62 and over) $14, Children 2 and up $11, Members and children under 2 free.