I haven’t been to the Bronx Zoo in years — for no good reason, really, other than it has always seemed to me like something you do with kids, which I seem to have forgotten to have. But they don’t stop you at the gate if you happen to have an unused uterus, and so I greatly enjoyed a recent Saturday afternoon wandering through the habitats I remembered from my own childhood, and quite a few new ones.

The thing that struck me is as I strolled is that in recent years I’ve seen a great many of the animals — although not all — in their natural habitat. Last summer, for instance, I saw grizzly bears in Denali in Alaska.

The experience of seeing them in the zoo felt only tangentially related to the experience of seeing them in the wild, similar to the difference between seeing a person in the flesh and looking at a photograph of that person. You can study a photograph at your leisure, without worrying about the social interaction. And at the zoo you can study the grizzlies as they splash in the water, or sun themselves, without worrying about the possibility of an attack. But it’s a strange sensation — the animals are alive, and real, but the situation is totally controlled.

Related: Swimming with the Sharks in Bora Bora