…but parents start to have a problem when the lions do it. I spent most of today in the big cat house because that was a reasonably warm place to learn how to demonstrate the Conservation Carts. The zoo has several varieties of carts that have biological items to educate the public about animal behaviors and conservation. For example, the big cat cart has a lion’s claw, a life-like cast acrylic skull with all those sharp carnivorous teeth, and laminated photographs of lions and tigers on the savanna, camouflaged in the tall grasses that match their markings and colors. The seal and sea lion cart has acrylic cast bones from the tail flipper and a similar casting of a human hand that shows each has five digits, some bronze models that show who has external ears and who doesn’t (sea lions have them, seals don’t), a rubber scuba diving flipper that demonstrates something confusing, another skull, pictures of bull seals and females that illustrate sexual dimorphism. There are fur samples, too. Today a woman came up to the cart and exclaimed, "Is that REAL fur? That’s so sad! I hate those pictures in magazines of those poor baby seals!" All well and good, except she was wearing the biggest ass fur coat I’ve ever seen. Over blue jeans, so it was a real fashion statement. I mean, who the heck wears a floor length fur coat to the zoo, for God’s sake? (Maybe God will smack her.)
Anyway, I was learning the fine art of engaging the public and some of it bordered on pervert/used car salesmanship-"hey! want to see what I have here on my cart?" – except it makes sense to try to educate people as long as they’re at the zoo visiting. And actually, once you snag them, you can get into some pretty interesting conversations about the various animals. I think I’m going to enjoy pushing a cart around the zoo on fine Spring mornings, showing people faux animal parts.
Seals and sea lions are pinnipeds. I’ve always liked pinnipeds. Did you know that seals can dive to a depth of 300 meters and stay under water for up to 20 minutes or more? All pinnipeds are carnivorous and they all "haul out" to give birth. I love that: "haul out". That’s a pretty apt description of my trip to the hospital after 9.5 months, so I can relate. There’s a great story about how the zoo used to have sea lions (that area is named the sea lion pool) but now it doesn’t because, once they built the new 200,000 gallon pool with lower walls for higher visibility, the sea lions with their giant front flippers could escape. The legend is that one escaped to Lake Michigan and two others bellied up to a bar on Lakeshore Drive…so now we just have Grey seals and harbor seals. In reality, I think a couple did go over the wall in the late eighties but I doubt they got very far.)
So, today was a day for me to learn cart demonstration except we kept getting interrupted by Adelor and Helene, the resident Panthera leo krugerii. Adelor was alternately flopped about on his rock, belly up, with his feet in the air and nosing around with a bored but cocksure attitude. Helene was minding her own business, napping and bathing and nuzzling her other pride mate, Myra and trying hard to ignore Adelor’s advances. When I say "nosing around" I mean that quite literally and the viewing public starts making disgusted noises. The comical thing was the more people went, "eewwuu!" the more vocal Adelor became in his pursuit. He was loud enough he could be heard a block away and loud enough we had to yell over his "YEEE-OWWW!"
Helene wasn’t interested in what he was selling. At one point, after Adelor had tried to mount her, gotten rebuked and reverted to his lazy belly-up position, she acted vaguely saucy and seductive. Adelor got up again and approached her, she turned around and nipped him and then captured his prime nap spot in the enclosure. Meanwhile, far down the building and out of sight of Adelar, poor Molly the Siberian tiger was lusty in her own right. So Molly and Adelor yeowled at each other off and on for much of the afternoon.
The animals in the zoo are pretty much free to engage in this kind of behavior whenever and as much as they want. Most of these animals fall under the Species Survival Plan, a controlled breeding plan in use throughout zoos in North America and so they are on birth control. Since they are unreliable about remembering to take pills, the big cats have implants very similar to the ones doled out by Planned Parenthood to distracted teens.
Later in the afternoon I wandered over to watch the ever vigilant Meerkats. Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are herpistids (a mongoose species) and primarily insectivores. According to African popular belief the meerkat is also known as the "sun angel" as it protects villages from the moon devil or werewolf, who is believed to attack stray cattle or lone tribesmen. Like felines, meerkats have binocular vision, a large peripheral range, depth perception, and eyes that sit on the front of their faces. They are immune to most insect toxins so they can eat scorpions with gay abandon.
At the zoo, the only thing these busy guys have to guard against is Hoover, the aardvark. They share an enclosure because these two animals co-exist well together. Unless you ask the meerkats. Hoover is acknowledged to be, hands down, the stinkiest fellow in the entire zoo and as many times as I’ve seen him he just lies there, curled up, looking silly and stinking the place up. He’s nocturnally active but during the day he’s like any other lump on a log and the meerkats will actually use him to stand on as they post guard. Hoover has sort of a cult following at the zoo. The Snarl calls him Electrolux.
Okay. I have to pack up and get ready to board the plane back to Florida. I’ll catch up with everybody tomorrow, when I plan to hunker down in my wicker chair on that big porch and bask like a skink.