Hibernation ends

Editorial Notebook

February 26, 2005|By Peter Jensen

TEMPERED GLASS reveals a deep pool of water, clear and blue. Suddenly, a flash of white, an explosion of bubbles and Alaska, a quarter-ton female polar bear, is swimming inches away. She glides to the bottom, picks up a log and rises to the surface. Wow. If the rest of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is anything like this, you find yourself saying, this is going to be one terrific place.

On Tuesday, Baltimore's zoo reopens after a two-month hibernation from the public. The time off helped workers concentrate on maintenance. It also saved money. Both are still needed around here. When the public returns, they will find some improvements - and signs of a work in progress.

First, the good. Polar Bear Watch is now complete, and it is terrific. The exhibit's tundra buggy is heated and air conditioned. Three new trams will shuttle guests throughout the zoo. The Maryland wildlife area is in better repair, and there are plans for a new exhibit this summer, Parakeet Landing, where visitors can commune with tropical birds under an aviary net. New exhibit signs offer insights into the animals' habitat, diet and range.

The only trouble is, that's about it. The exhibit area near the main gate is now closed. Visitors who don't ride a tram have a long walk ahead of them. The number of species on display has shrunk. Don't expect to see gibbons or snow leopards. The former have been sent off to the Memphis Zoo, the latter are headed to Cape May, N.J. Oh, and admission prices have been raised .

What patrons won't see is some of the zoo's most important work. It is getting back on track. Remember the financial scare? The elephants getting shipped out? The zoo finished 2004 in the black. The female elephant will soon be impregnated. State funding has held firm. Summer camp returns after a year off. A new building program is in the works. The hibernation is over. What the zoo needs now are visitors. The polar bears are ready for some company. How about you?

- Peter Jensen

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