The Bronx Zoo and Mario’s on Arthur Avenue
Richard J. Garfunkel
Hello from rainy Tarrytown. Yesterday was a fabulous spring day. Linda played tennis indoors in New Rochelle and I drove 15 miles up to the Armonk tennis Club and played for an hour and a half with a young guy 35 years my junior. The weather was pristine. I got back home at 1:15 pm, showered and got dressed. We both got ready for our trip to the Bronx Zoo. Our friend, Diona, who a retired professor of Bio-Chemistry at Marymount/Fordham College is now a docent at the Zoo, and with her husband Ron, organized the tour. So my old friend Warren, whom I met in 1953, and his two daughters; Zannie and Katie and son in law, Nanno, met with us and our friends Bob and Corinne at the zoo at 2:45 pm.
The Zoo, which was founded in 1901, is a remarkable place covering 265 acres. Fordham University owned most of the land which became the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden. Fordham sold it to the City of New York for only $1,000 under the condition that the lands be used for a zoo and garden; this was in order to create a natural buffer between the university grounds and the urban expansion that was nearing. In the 1880s, New York State set aside the land for future development as parks. In 1895, New York State chartered the New York Zoological Society (later renamed to Wildlife Conservation Society) for the purpose of founding a zoo.
The zoo (originally called the New York Zoological Park) opened its doors to the public on November 8, 1899, featuring 843 animals in 22 exhibits. The first zoo director was William Temple. Hornaday Heins & LaFarge designed the original permanent buildings as a series of Beaux-Arts pavilions grouped around the large circular sea lion pool. Many exhibits, for example World of Birds and World of Reptiles, maintain the original taxonomical arrangement, while others are arranged geographically, such as African Plains and Wild Asia. These same buildings still stand today around the seal pool.
Once we gathered all together, we made our way past the majestic eagles, and the hunched over vultures, and the huge Andean condors. We were just in time for the seal feeding, which was crowded with people of all ages, cultures, and economic strata. Everyone loves seals!
After the seal feeding, they could eat 30 pounds of fish during the day, Diona led us to the Madagascar House, which featured lemurs. They are a class of strepsirrhine primates that is endemic to the island of Madagascar. The name is derived from the Latin word lemures, signifying ghosts or spirits, from which they earned their name due to the ghostly vocalizations, reflective eyes, and the nocturnal habits of some species. Although lemurs often are confused with ancestral primates, the anthropoid primates (monkeys, apes, and humans) did not evolve from them; instead, lemurs merely share morphological and behavioral traits with basal primates. Meanwhile they are attractive and engaging animals that dote on their young, live high up in trees in the rain forest, and are representative of scores of varieties. Though it was hard to leave the Madagascar House, we pressed on past the flamingoes as we worked our way to the Congo Gorilla Forest, a 6.5 acre preserve, where we watched the antics of those legendary creatures. The gorilla lives in a tightly-knit group of up to 30 animals, lead by a dominant male known as a silverback. This male leads and protects this group of animals whose weights range from 150 to 500 pounds. After a few charges by one of the gorillas, at the thick glass that separated all of us from the preserve, we all decided to move on.
As we were running out of time, we moved quickly to see the lions. Lions are the most social of all the wild cats. They live and often hunt together, but have a reputation for terrible manners when it comes to sharing food. Related females form prides of around 15 members, while males (related and unrelated) form nomadic coalitions that compete for access to prides. Female offspring of pride members remain in the group as adults, but male cubs leave as they approach adulthood at around three years of age. When a new coalition of males comes into a pride, they often kill young lions so their mothers will be ready to mate again. We were able to observe a large male and his one-year old daughter. The daughter kept on pacing along the fence and the moat that separated us from her territory. The lions were anticipating the up-coming feeding time and in reality were not interested in the spectators. It was now 5:00 pm and we had decided to finish our visit and make our way to our cars.
It was a full day and we made plans to eat at Mario’s, on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Located in Belmont (Little Italy) — “the safest neighborhood in America,” five generations of the Migliucci family have been turning out fresh, robust Neapolitan food since 1919. Mario’s isn’t too far away, and we were able to reserve a private room and a set-up for ten. We arrived by six, I said hello to the owner, who’s a friend of WVOX’s Bill O’Shaughnessy, (that is the station where my show The Advocates is broadcasted) and we were treated royally. It was a great meal, with a terrific antipasto featuring clams, mussels, calamari, egg plant and stuffed mushrooms. We had a few bottles of Italian red wine and everyone ordered their own specific dishes. I had my usual tortellini with Bolognese sauce and Linda had sole francaise. By 8:30pm all the all bread, wine, appetizers, and entrees were consumed. We spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out the bill of faire, but all was solved and we headed home, exhausted, but satiated with a day of tennis, a tour of the zoo, and a large enjoyable meal.