Zooful Memories

Writing about my foreign zoo experiences (Paris and Berlin) made me want to share some of my encounters that were closer to home.

While I was in graduate school the first time, I bought a membership to our “World Famous” zoo in lieu of  one for a gym.

San Diego Zoo Logo

On days that I didn’t have class, I would take an hour-long study break and go walk the perimeter of the park. It encompasses numerous canyons, so hill workouts were an integral part.

During these workouts, which were always right when the park opened, I was able to see the animals all awake and eager to be fed. They would rush up near me, thinking I was a zookeeper with their breakfast. I felt a little guilty about that. I often would meetup with zookeepers during feeding time, so I could ask them pressing questions.

My favorite such encounter was in what I referred to as antelope alley – all sorts of different antelope-type critters from all over the world were in one section. I had noticed that there was a zebra in with some antelopes, and he’d been there quite a while. One day I happened to be walking by during breakfast, so I asked the handler the story of the lone zebra.

“One of these things is not like the others!”

She laughed. She said that the zebra was very “productive.” He’d already mated with all the female zebras numerous times, and for the sake of gene pool diversity he needed to stop. Since surgically stopping him was not an option (other zoos in the future might need his libido), he had to be placed in a temptation-free zone, hence the other very small animals in the enclosure.

My overall favorite ranger encounter happened on elephant mesa. A zoo employee was walking along moving an animal on a lead through the public areas, which was rare. She stopped me as I was breezing past and asked if I wanted to pet an elephant.

I looked at the animal and then back at her. “I know I’m not an expert, but your elephant looks a lot like a camel.”

She looked over at the animal and then back at me. Straight faced she asked, “Would you like to pet a camel?”

I laughed and pet the camel. I loved the feel of his coat. He’d obviously been to a groomer, because there were none of the matts that I was always seeing on the animals in the exhibit.

Have you ever spoken to a zoo animal trainer? Or What is the most exotic animal you have ever hat the pleasure of petting?

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