As planned, after posting about Eastlake, I put on my mittens and thermal underwear and headed off to the Vilas Zoo to look at penguins.

It was about 15 degrees out and snowing–big, loose, fluffy flakes. The surrounding park was empty and covered in deep drifts of snow. I couldn’t see a soul and wasn’t sure if the zoo was even open, but apparently it was:

I headed to the penguin exhibit, but they were nowhere to be seen. Same with the polar bear enclosure, and most of the other animal pens: empty, clean, silent.

The lion was gone, hidden away somewhere and dreaming of the savanna, so I had to settle for the stone sculpture at the gate.

It wasn’t clear where most of the animals had gone. A few of them were still out in the snow, or visible in their normal shelters: the Great Horned Owl was glowering out from its nest box, harbor seals were swimming in their pool, the camels and alpacas huddled in their barn so that only their snow-dusted rear ends were visible, and the Barbados sheep were milling around the door anxiously, waiting for food, perhaps.

Every so often I’d see someone else pass by, bundled in winter gear, but mostly the zoo was empty.

Some of the animals were in buildings right by their normal pens.

The giraffes normally have a big pen outside.

In the winter, though, they’re confined to a tiny concrete cage with acacias painted on the walls and artificial suns above.

Inside the aviary building, it’s as steamy and verdant as ever.



And inside the aquarium, as dark and cool as ever. Stingrays and arawannas swim endlessly through the dim light, unaware of the seasons changing.

The most surreal juxtaposition was probably the flamingos. I saw their cheerfully painted building through the blowing snow. It looked like a little piece of Florida.

Inside, the flamingos wander around on concrete painted to look vaguely like sand, wade in a shallow pool of water in a corner where the floor dips down, and strain their brine shrimp from black plastic buckets instead of silty shallows.



Oddly, they seem just as happy here as in their little lake outdoors, occupied with dabbling around in the various buckets and tubs, but since I’m not a flamingo, I can’t know what they’re really thinking, what makes a flamingo happy.

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