Last winter I wrote a photo essay on the abandoned Belle Isle Zoo. Apparently the idea of an abandoned zoo captured a lot of readers' imaginations, and over the months I have seen a lot of traffic from people searching for photos of it.

Many of the photos in that essay were taken over a year ago; last week I went back inside to see the zoo at the height of a new summer, seven years after it officially closed its gates. Please click on any of the images below to get a higher-resolution, more detailed view of each scene:

I kept gagging on the husks of dead insects: enormous spider webs stretched everywhere and the zoo is visited so little these days the spiders have no reason not to build their webs across doorways or the extensive boardwalk. Disgust commingled with guilt. Who was I to destroy so much hard work?

After glancing at the giant photo hanging in the old arachnid display, I envisioned a horror movie where a group of exotic spiders escaped when the zoo was closed, breeding into some terrible mutated species native only to these overgrown acres; around the corner I would discover the dessicated corpses of a dozen suburban teenagers, scrappers, and douchebags like me with DSLRs still hanging from their necks, all suspended on webs near the monkey cages. By then it would be too late: I would find my own arms stuck, and the last thing I would see are the staggered eyes and quivering tusks of the tapir-sized tarantula scuttling over to suck the juices right out of me.

Of course, there would also be forgotten lions lingering on the overgrown savanna for that last shock in the horror dénouement, beasts in dire need of meat:

I wrote of the "plants growing inside each enclosure, non-native species probably chosen carefully long ago to resemble the flora of wherever the animal was from but not to tempt them into nibbling. Even a simulacrum of wildness, abandoned, will become truly wild given enough time."

There is the bitter irony of this place. Zookeepers consulted with botanists; certain species of plants were ordered specifically and planted to their instructions. These enclosures designed to pen captive wildlife and captivate humanity were carefully planned to resemble wilderness down to every excruciating detail.

And every year that passes, abandonment allows that design to become more fully realized than any of its designers could have imagined. Seven years of a silent Darwinian struggle have taken place here among the flora. Sunlight. Water. Autumn. Spring.

There is a certain comfort here. The earth is fine. Nature is patient. The plants are just waiting. It is the monuments we build, the paths we tread that are endangered.