Warning: Somewhere amongst the photos is a spider arachnophobes might want to avert their eyes from!
I love rain. It invigorates, and sharpens perceptions and delight, even if you do come home soaked through and a tad rough-throated. Not many people agree, so we have room to move at the usually crowded zoo.
Hippos greet us, lumping around in the water, eyes popping up, and ears unflattening as they emerge. One treats us to a wide open mouth, pink and tusky and toothed, before sinking below the surface. We wait for feeding time, and watch as the keepers drop a puny supply of cabbage, carrots and apple into their vast jaws.
The big cats aren’t keen on rain and disappear, except for a lion huddled up under a small overhang and a spotted panther in a cage who tears at a sack of meat hanging from a tree until he liberates it, at which point he disappears to enjoy his feast in private. We reach the lemurs at feeding time and watch them for a while, speculating about their identity, before they too retreat. The gibbons aren’t daunted though: they swing on their ropes and walk along them and hold on by one hand and chase each other with beautiful agility. Swans, white and black, (the twins know the black ones are Australian) and pale pink pelicans, wings edged with black, preen. A loud bird-noise resolves itself into penguins wanting lunch: when we stand near the feeding gate they advance on us expectantly.
Maja is fascinated by spiders, cockroaches and yabbies, and walks around that enclosure twice, peering behind glass to spot creatures that often make me shudder. She and Jaś scrutinise the zoo map and point out where we need to go to find camels, which hide in their sheds, displaying only their heels and half their head.
I didn’t take many photos. I don’t like photographing through wire or in the rain, and I usually had an umbrella in one hand and a small hand in the other.
Always in Warsaw, events of World War 2 extrude. The zoo was bombed regularly at the outbreak of the war and many animals died. After Warsaw surrendered, “valuable” animals were taken to a reserve in Germany, the rest were shot and the zoo was closed. However, the director, Dr Jan Żabiński, and his wife Antonia, along with their son, saved more than 200 Jews by hiding them in abandoned animal enclosures. Żabiński was also member of the Polish underground Home Army (the AK) and took part in the Warsaw Uprising, ending up as a prisoner in Germany.