I knew we should visit the zoo whilst in New York.
And the children were clamouring to go. We are all great Madagascar fans. Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, yada, yada. But a city zoo: you wonder what you’re going to find. All those animals in such a small place. How happy can they be?
We padded through the streets on a sky-blue day in the city; past the horses with their carts stolidly ignoring the taxis, and the pigeons passing the time of day high on the lamp posts in lines.
Arriving at the zoo for ten, we watched the famous clock do its thing.
And then into the zoo and another world, far away from the streets and the hot dog stands. The penguins, the seals, the snow leopard, the turtles; an entire rain forest, complete with bats, roosting and flying at close quarters.
We had rather a lovely morning shambling around.
Of course, we saw Gus.
Gus, the polar bear. Arriving at the zoo in 1988, he has outlived all his companions. Six years after his arrival, they brought an animal psychologist in to help after Gus began endlessly swimming laps of his very small ocean. The psychologist pronounced he was bored; an ‘enrichment’ programme was what Gus needed. Toys, puzzles, positive reinforcement, and a new pad for a polar bear in the city.
It worked; though Gus still did those repetitive figure of eights in the water sometimes.
A polar bear on therapy: New York loved him. And the day we arrived, we though he might not make an appearance, but he did. He came out of is cave, munched some stuff, peered blearily at the adoring crowd.
Virginia, a New York writer and blogger, e-mailed me overnight. It seems we saw some of Gus’s last days: on Tuesday the polar bear was put down after they found an inoperable tumour on his thyroid region.
He was a very old polar bear: in the wild they live about 15-18 years, and in zoos can reach about 20 years. He was 27. It was probably time.
But New York City will miss him.