Clue # 1: I didn't go for a hike, but was on my feet for 5.5 hours, and walked many miles - although at a much slower pace than my normal walking pace. At the end of this, my legs and feet felt as though I had done at least a half marathon.
Clue # 2: I spied this extremely endangered Cuban crocodile, but I wasn't in Cuba. Close but no cigar.
Clue #3: I watched golden lion tamarins at play for about a half hour, but I wasn't in the Atlantic Coastal forests of Brazil.
Clue #4: I saw a giant anteater and her six month old baby, but I wasn't in Central or South America.
Clue #5: I explored the rain forest and saw many facinating creatures and plants on the land and in water, but I wasn't in the Amazon watershed. In fact, I was only about 110 miles from Richmond.
Clue #6: I saw three giant pandas, but I wasn't in China.
I'm sure by now you have figured out that I was at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. I have not been at this excellent zoo in over three years, and enjoyed seeing it again. For one thing, I have never seen the beautiful Asian Trail exhibit that opened in the fall of 2006. It has amazing and roomy habitats for a number of Asian animals, all of which are endangered or vulnerable. These include giant and red pandas, Asian small claw otters, clouded leopards, fishing cats, and sloth bears.
Zoos are somewhat controversial. I have read articles very critical of them and of their conservation mission. But I think they have come a long way since the days of warehousing as many animals as possible into dank and small concrete cages. This zoo has a lot of habitats are are spacious enough and with enough natural features that many times, the animal inside is not visible. It also seems to do a lot with endangered species, including research, captive breeding, and reintroduction. It contains at least two species that are extinct in the wild - if zoos didn't exist, these species would be totally extinct. And for many people, the only wildlife that they will see - much less the exotic species from foreign lands - will be in a zoo. Maybe this will give people the sense of wonder at the tremendous and amazing diversity of nature, and an appreciation for the natural world that they would not otherwise have.
I also just enjoyed the atmosphere of Washington, my favorite city (other than the slimy and destructive politics). In particular, I loved seeing so many people out for walks and runs along the Potomac River. It is a wonderful city for this type of activity, and has so many beautiful sights and views. In a week, I have several Team in Training friends who will be participating in the Nation's Triathlon here. GO TEAM!