I received sad news from the Bronx Zoo today. In its July/August 2009 newsletter to members, the zoo informs us that it is "restructuring to ensure that we keep our 114-year-old institution strong on conservation and our parks the best places to bring your chldren and families." This wretched economy! Although the zoo continues to create new exhibits, part of the restructuring is the closing of World of Darkness, the round brown building that stood behind the entry to the African Plains and in front of Asia. Though World of Darkness could never be pinpointed on a global map like those other continents, it was a special destination unto itself.
Walking through the doors, your eyes took a moment to adjust to the sudden loss of light. But as you moved through the darkness, unsure whether you were about to knock into a railing or another zoo visitor, your eyes adjusted and you'd begin to see movement in the night. How fascinating to see the creatures that gracefully slip through the evening's blackness. Creatures with extra big eyes to allow more light in so they could see.
My favorite inhabitants of the World of Darkness were these desert cats. I cannot recall their real name, but they looked exactly like a household tabby yet made their homes in the wilds of the desert, prowling back and forth across the dunes behind the safety of the exhibit glass. Out of all the residents of that building, the cats stand out most in my memory.
I suppose I love the World of Darkness unconditionally as far as zoo exhibits go. I recall it was one of my favorites when I visited the Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney. Something about worlds that exist outside of my own. That life continues even after the lights go out. That we must trust that living creatures can survive and thrive in an environment that brings us fear and uncertainty.
We happened to make a visit to the Bronx Zoo during our April vacation. As it turns out, the World of Darkness closed its doors to the light of the outside world soon after. According to the newsletter, the animals have been relocated to other exhibits within the zoo, to some of the city zoos, and other insitutions that "meet or exceed the guidelines of accredited institutions in the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums." Which means when we pay our visit to the Roger Williams Zoo in a few weeks, or stop in on other zoos across the country, we may run into some familiar friends.
Rest in Peace, World of Darkness. You helped shine light on other worlds so we could see, learn, and discover.