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I apologize for my absence yesterday.  My munificent otter and I spent a lovely vacation day visiting the Bronx Zoo.  I plan on writing a post about the history of zoos– which occupy a pivotal location in the often-murderous relationship between humans and wild animals.  Today however I am going to turn my back on that fraught topic to write about a remarkable animal I encountered yesterday.

The best experience at a zoo is to encounter a new animal and strike up a bond with it.  This is one of the things that makes a zoo visit rewarding–to return and visit old friends and see how they are doing (it can also make zoo outings terribly sad, when beloved animals and their families fall ill or die).

Yesterday I was standing beside an aviary cage, which was apparently empty except for big leafy bushes, when a spectacular bird leaped out of a flowering shrub, sprinted to a spot immediately in front of me and performed a friendly impromptu dance.  It was the Golden Pheasant or “Chinese Pheasant“, (Chrysolophus pictus).  Here’s a picture, but be aware that it does not do the bird justice at all.  This bird looks like something created by an eccentric Taoist god drunk upon the glories of the courts of heaven!

Chrysolophus pictus

When the pheasant at the zoo was done showing off, he stared beadily at me with as if demanding some sort of tribute.  As I moved away to look at lesser pheasants he displayed signs of great displeasure.  I could have stared at him all day.  This sort of pheasant is reported to be quite fearless and friendly and it seems that the Bronx Zoo’s specimen is no exception.

The Golden pheasant is a great success story.  Indigenous to the forests and mountains of western China, they have spread across China due to their popularity as ornamental birds (they have a long history in China’s art and literature).  They have also spread abroad, and today boast colonies in England and America.  Aristocrats and the sporting rich once imported them, released them into alien forests and fields, and then set out to gun them down.  Imagine The Most Dangerous Game or Hard Target (but with the part of John-Claude Van Damme played by a pheasant).  Fortunately, the hen of the species possesses a more prudent nature than the outgoing male.  Additionally both sexes can run like greyhounds and are capable of making themselves invisible, even in the teeming cities of China.

An all-yellow variant demonstrates the birds' expressiveness.

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