Places: Oklahoma Trails Exhibit, Oklahoma City Zoo 2101 Northeast 50th Street

Published: December 22, 2009
Modified: December 22, 2009 at 3:10 pm

There are better times to visit the Oklahoma City Zoo than on a late autumn day when the temperatures are south of freezing, when the wind turns your fingers brittle as icicles and sets your nose to dripping. As you stand outside, you can't help but bounce up and down, urging your body to generate heat.


On such days, it's understandable to covet the grizzly bears. From behind, they are unrecognizable, not animals but massive clumps of auburn fur supported by stocky, hirsute pillars. And do they ever look warm! A little shampoo, some time with a hair dryer and a clever seamstress, and that fur would make an excellent overcoat, hat and gloves. Maybe even boots.

You think such things when you're freezing.

When the bears turn sideways, though, those thoughts vanish. The bears are magnificent creatures, deceptively slow and placid. Their great shovel-shaped heads seem to radiate patience, even as they scrounge for the peanut butter and dog food their keepers have spread on the ground. You want to pet them, talk to them like you would a baby or a favored hound. “Who's a big ole bearface?” you might say, running your (frozen) fingers (icicles) through the fur at the nape of their necks. “You want a treat? Go potty, and then you'll get a treat.”

The grizzlies are part of the Oklahoma Trails Exhibit, which displays more than 100 different animal species indigenous to Oklahoma. The bear habitat consumes a relatively small portion of the exhibit's 7.7 acres, and when the grizzlies trundle down an earthen slope toward two artificial waterfalls and a stream, you can see them clearly. The only sound is the splash and slap of the water. Even the stinging breeze is silent. No one else is around, no other humans, and despite the protective barriers around you, despite these fake constructs, there is something eerie about this, as if you have stumbled upon these proud beasts in the wild and are watching with fear and privilege and reverence — as if this is a moment for you and the bears and no one else.

There are better times to visit the zoo than when it's cold and icy and empty and alone. But not many.

— Ken Raymond, Staff Writer


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