BRONX, NYAfter months of public anticipation, the Bronx Zoo finally opened its new loitering-teens exhibit Saturday.
The state-of-the-art exhibit, constructed over the past 10 months at a cost of $4.5 million, drew record crowds to the zoo this weekend. Loitering teens are indigenous to many urban and suburban areas across the U.S., but this is the first time they have been captured for display in a public zoo.
"They are fascinating," said Raymond Fehr, 51, a member of the Bronx Zoo board of directors and the man who oversaw the development of the exhibit. "The public will enjoy watching them hang out and smoke in an attractive natural setting."
The loitering-teens exhibit faithfully recreates the species' natural habitat, boasting a city-street facade that features a full-scale replica video arcade, piercing parlor and Taco Bell. A special "concrete park" area, suitable for skateboarding, has also been included to give the teens exercise.
According to Bronx Zoo director of exhibits John Gilkey, the zoo's 15 loitering-teen specimens appear to enjoy their new home and are responding well to their three daily feedings of Meximelts and Mountain Dew.
"They're really adjusting nicely," Gilkey said. "They've already started to spit, and I think that, within a couple of weeks, they'll be just about ready to start asking for spare change."
Despite the relatively smooth adjustment, one lesson zoo officials learned quickly was not to introduce older humans into the loitering teens' pen. When this happened, Gilkey said, the teens became enraged and ran around the cage screaming, "You just don't understand me, mom!"
Also of concern to zoo officials are the mating rituals of the teens, who appear to be awkward and ill-at-ease around members of the opposite sex. "We're hoping to get them to mate," Gilkey said. "But, thus far, all they seem interested in doing is shoplifting magazines and hiding from someone they call 'Johnny Law.'"
The Bronx Zoo's newest arrivals are a hit with the public. Plastic-toy replicas of the loitering teens are a best-seller at the zoo gift shop, and there is talk of opening a petting area so humans can interact with them on a limited basis.
"I like the one in the Charlotte Hornets jacket," said zoo visitor Jenny Thaler, 9. "He's got funny red dots all over his face."
If last weekend's visitor numbers continue, the loitering-teens exhibit has a chance at surpassing "Women In Our Midst" as the biggest draw in zoo history.