I bought a zoo! Wait…that wasn’t me. That was Matt Damon in a crappy looking movie made just to sell popcorn. Ever since the incident that shall hereafter be known as the “Four Dollar Haircut Debacle of 1997” (I had to wear hats for a year. Many tears were shed, many hats were worn.) I am oft mistaken for Matt Damon. For years strangers would come up to me and ask me to say “Do you like apples?” Most of the time I obliged because they would offer to pay for my meal if I said it.
I did go to the zoo today though. And I thought about buying it but after much inner debate I realized that I would have a lot of poo to clean up and while I love my dog, following her around with a poop bag is my least favorite dog owner duty. (Ha ha. See how I did that? I used the word “duty” while talking about “doody.” I amuse myself. I have to; no one else will.) So for now I will just remain a frequent guest. Because guests never get asked to clean up poo unless it is their own and that’s a discussion that you never want to have with your host.
You went to a zoo in February? Are you crazy? (These are your thoughts. I am not talking to myself. I am pretending that you are talking to me….so yeah, I guess I’m talking to myself.) YES. I did go to the zoo in February. I have the day off and should be going back any day now to my secret job so I thought I should make the most of this sunny semi-chilly day. I figured that there wouldn’t be a lot of people there, I wouldn’t have to fight the buses upon buses of schoolchildren pandering for the best view of the bears and the animals are usually more active when the weather is cooler.
So I thought.
The St. Louis Zoo is, by far, one of the best zoos in the nation. For one thing, it’s two miles from my house so I kind of like that and also it’s free unless you want to go touch a stingray (which I don’t) or pet an alpaca (Sorry, alpacas. Although I find you very cute, my friend Romy owns a whole gaggle of them and I can see them, pet them and be spit upon by them any time I want.) or feed a goat (I only feed goats at Grant’s Farm, another awesome St. Louis landmark. Seriously, you should come visit my city. Look me up. I’ll take you on a tour. Unless you’re a serial killer. Serial Killers need not apply.) It also has some pretty cool exhibits: Penguin and Puffin Coast, 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage Walk-Through and the soon-to-open $120 million Sea Lion Sound, which by the looks of it should be amazing. It’s going to have underwater viewing stations and an underwater tunnel. I can’t wait.
I started off my journey at the River’s Edge. It’s a jungle-ish walk through various exhibits of spotted hyenas, warthogs, cheetahs, bush dogs, hippos and Asian elephants. Along the path there are also fake gazelles dangling from tree branches (one can only assume that the gazelle was carried up by a fake predator and left there to be made into fake jerky) hidden speakers to simulate natural animal sounds and as you round one corner, a giant plaster king cobra standing about three feet tall with its hood up and coiled around its eggs. Scares the crap out of me every time and I know exactly where it is. Today, I pulled a Yadi on the cobra and made sure to turn my head and not look at it even once because Yadi’s theory is that if she doesn’t see it, it doesn’t exist. I have to say that this works well when dealing with three foot tall plaster king cobras. The first several exhibits seemed empty. There was no warthog. The cheetah was in its cage. No bush dogs. No foxes. What the heck? On a positive note, up until this point, the only people I saw where caretakers.
I got to one of my favorite exhibits in the River’s Edge. It’s a giant tank of water teeming with various fish and about five hippos. Part of the exhibit is dry land but the part where you stand, under a bamboo shelter, is looking directly into the little pond where the hippos tend to hang out. There was a family of four (I swear it was Larry the Cable guy and his family) gathered peering into the glass so I prematurely got my hopes up that I would finally see some animals. I walked up to the glass and looked for a hippo…any hippo. No hippo. But for Larry and fam, this was a pretty big deal. I know this because right as I was walking up I heard him exclaim with a little more excitement than necessary,
“Lookee they-urr! Kate-fish! That’s a big’un!!!!”
Larry and his family might come to the zoo to see the Kate-fish. I do not.
Disappointed, I walked on. I came upon the spotted hyenas. At first I thought there was just the one sleeping in his den (a cave, not his tv room or where he reads his National Geographics) but then I spotted one a little further away. As I got closer, I noticed that he was gnawing on the nearly-bare skull of something. As gross as that was, and as squeamish as I am, I still watched for a while.
Last summer, the St. Louis Zoo was fortunate to have a baby elephant, Kenzi. I saw her a few days after she went on display and she was adorable. I walked toward the Asian elephant exhibit. The first viewing station was empty, except for an obese squirrel who was in the distance munching on something. I stopped for a second, secretly hoping that at any moment an elephant might come barreling around the corner and squish him. I’m not saying I wanted to see death or anything and it probably would have actually really upset me but at this point, I just wanted to see some sign of life, even if it led to a display of death.
I went to the next elephant viewing station. Nothing.
To the next. Empty.
Where were the elephants hanging out? Where can four elephants hide? Were they getting their hair did somewhere?
There are a few things that, separately, won’t faze me. But together, they are the perfect storm for my imagination to run amuck. The first component is the missing elephants. The second is that right when I got to the end of the elephant exhibit and saw no elephants, I looked down on the ground and found a bolt. A BOLT. A BOLT AS IN HARDWARE THAT IS NEEDED TO KEEP THESE WILD ANIMALS FROM STAMPEDING UNSUSPECTING VISITORS. The third is that behind me, I heard breaking bamboo. Separately, harmless. Experiencing all three together in the span of a minute and my mind is seeing headlines:
‘LOCAL BLOGGER CRUSHED TO DEATH BY ANGRY ASIAN ELEPHANTS. OBESE SQUIRREL ESCAPES HARM.”
‘CITY GIRL CRUSHED TO DEATH BY KENZI, THE NORMALLY DOCILE BABY ELEPHANT. SPOTTED HYENA FIRST ON THE SCENE AND MAKES OFF WITH THE SKULL!”
‘LARRY THE CABLE GUY’S FIRST TRIP TO THE ZOO MARRED BY LOCAL’S UNTIMELY DEATH, LATER ARRESTED FOR ILLEGAL CATFISHING IN THE HIPPO POND!” (worse than just death, I don’t even get top billing in this one.)
In my best action movie, slow motion turn around, I find relief. It was just a chipmunk. Still can’t explain the bolt though. I brought it home as a souvenir. Tonight, if one of the top stories on the news is that somehow a bolt was misplaced at the zoo, leading to several animals escaping, I will take down this blog and deny its existence.
I left the River’s Edge and headed towards the bears. The first bear exhibit was empty. I came up to the sloth bear. High up on a rocky cliff he was eating and pooping at the same time. I can’t imagine that he wanted me staring at him while he went about his business so I walked on. Got to give him props for making the most of his time though.
Next up, another of my favorite places in the zoo-Penguin and Puffin Coast. Said to be the only one like it in the United States, this is a small but impressive sight. You walk through sliding doors and are greeted by a blast of forty-five degree air. Another set of doors open and you are magically transported to a room that is filled with penguins. There’s a walkway down the middle of the room and on both sides, penguins are standing on rocks or diving into the water. The walls are glass and are only about four feet tall. If you’re a first time visitor and without someone who knows stuff, you will be all excited and walk right up to the glass because you’re less than a foot from the penguins! And then a penguin will see you there and he will dive right in front of you. And you will be covered in penguiny water and smell like it the rest of the day. You can tell the people who have been there before because they all walk down the middle of the path and never get too close to the glass. (Side note: I figured out that one of the reasons the penguins are my favorite is because of the way they walk. They always walk like they’re afraid they’re going to slip and fall. It amuses me to see penguins being so careful.) Of course, there are a few other downsides to the penguin and puffin exhibit. One that has always bothered me is that it doesn’t seem healthy to be in an enclosed area breathing in bird air. The other thing is, and this didn’t bother me until a friend pointed it out, that it smells like a women’s restroom that hasn’t been cleaned in days. I guess I should mention the puffin part of the exhibit. The puffins are contained in a small area much like the penguins. They really don’t get much attention and are kind of boring but you have to walk past them before you are forced to exit into a well-placed Penguin and Puffin Coast gift shop.
A few years ago, the zoo spent a ton of money revamping its chimpanzee, gorilla and ape exhibits so that it was more like their “natural habitat.” We studied these animals and not once do I ever remember seeing a chimpanzee lounging in a hammock made of recycled fire hoses. (Another side note: I would love one of these hammocks in my house. Please write to me if you can hook me up with one.) Watching the chimpanzees kind of creeps me out because of their eyes and their hands. They look so smart through their eyes, almost human. And if you watch how they use their hands, again, almost human. Today one of them took his hand and shielded his eyes from the sun. That’s pretty smart. But then he started pulling poop from his own butt and nibbling on it and I realized that maybe he’s not as smart as I thought. And not for one minute have I, or will I, EVER believe that I “evolved” from these or any other creature. I’m not here to debate but if I evolved that far, why wouldn’t I keep evolving? If anything we are DEvolving….the Kardashians are proof of this.
I walked up to where the giraffes are kept. In one little area there were two ostriches, a gazelle and a gerenuk (I think that’s how it is spelled) and two giraffes. The giraffes were off eating grass and the ostriches were eating bugs off of each other’s butts. But the gazelle and the gerenuk mesmerized me. I couldn’t tell if they were male or female but I think they both must have been male because they kept clashing. I watched them for about fifteen minutes. The gerenuk would be going about his business, doing little gerenuk things, thinking little gerenuk thoughts:
“What’s that smell?”
“There’s that obese squirrel again….”
And the gazelle would see the gerenuk in his own little world and he would start after him. They would both stop and look at each other for a few seconds, with their snouts about two inches apart and then almost at the same time they would both lower their heads and slowly butt them together with their horns clashing. It wasn’t violent but at the same time it didn’t seem to be friendly. Then they would push each other and just as slowly back off. The gerenuk would then walk away with the gazelle trailing behind him, antagonizing him until he turned around and they started the process over again with exactly the same results. Were they enemies? Was this a territorial thing? I don’t think so. I think that they had been playing a word game and the gerenuk won the game because the gazelle used a made up word like “creasotey” and the gazelle was just mad that he didn’t win. At least, that’s what leads me and Romy to butt heads like that.
My last stop was in Big Cat Country. My favorite part of the Big Cats is the Snow Leopard. Most of the time you don’t see him in the summer but today there were two out. One was snoozing on his side and the other walked up to him and looked down at him, like he wanted to wake him up to play. He stared at the sleeping leopard for a while and then just cuddled down beside him. It was kind of cute.
All of the times I’ve been at the zoo I’ve never heard the lion roar. You can hear them roar up to five miles away so I figured that if I was twenty feet away it would feel much like it does when a car drives by with its bass thumping. I read the placard that pretends to educate me on lions. It said that they roar to alert the pride of danger or to gather the pride.
I made up my mind to make him roar. I figured that in my biker jacket (with pretty striped scarf) that I might look menacing. I’d be scared of me. Alas, he was not. I made constant eye contact with him, trying to antagonize him but he just blinked at me and looked away as a flock of sparrows flew out of the tree above his head. When I regained eye contact, I WILLED him to roar. Today I learned that you cannot will a lion to roar. More often than not he will stare at you for a minute, blink, get up, walk in a tight circle and then plop back down on his side. Oh well.
By this time I had spent two hours at the zoo and was tired and hungry and still had to walk all the way back to my car on the other side. I headed towards the gate and on my way got to see a bonus exhibit. Coming at me about thirty feet down the path was a man in the middle of the path. Might have been homeless. Might have been drunk. Definitely a little off his nut. He was dancing a jig and talking to himself (and anyone who passed by) and generally scaring people who had to walk by him. I hurried my step a little and then kind of felt disappointed as I realized that he totally beat me to the punch on suggesting a human exhibit at the zoo.