Category Archives: It’s all happening at the zoo…

When “NO” means oh, please, oh, please, oh, please

Love is in the air- or not- at the zoo. At our zoo, we’re really hoping that Molly, our Amur tiger, will get it on with Vahzhno, her visiting suitor. In general, tigers breed readily in captivity. Still, it’s a complex business. Long before it becomes an affair of the heart- or hormones- the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) is busy matchmaking around various parameters. Amur Tigers (formerly Siberian) are in extremely short supply in the wild so they are a part of the Species Survival Plan and which zoo gets a breeding plan is determined by numerous factors. The curators and keepers who manage the tiger stud book for the AZA (think of them as the technical cupids) consider genetic value, relatedness, age, location and personality. Genetic value and relatedness is fairly easy to determine in today’s world of tiger DNA data banks (this is why tigers are reluctant to engage in criminal activity), health is constantly monitored, and location is a given (transporting tigers can be a tricky business). But, you know, when it comes to personality who’s to say which tiger is going to tickle another’s fancy?

For some months now, it seems as though Molly has wanted nothing to do with Vahzhno. In the wild, it’s doubtful he’d get within 100 miles of her. But he’s the chosen match and we’re waiting with high hopes for her to, as the song goes, love the one she’s with. There are some things we know about Ms Molly. She’s big, strong and feisty. She’s also 2 years older than Vahzhno, who is sadly lacking in certain experiences. The keepers have been putting them together intermittently but now, in desperation, they are being put together all of their daytime hours in the large outdoor exhibit space. We take turns doing tiger watch; often there’s also a keeper with a fire extinguisher nearby (in case things go from smoldering to a three alarm fire.)

Today was a typical gray Midwestern winter day. The sky is a flat, opaque shade of blah and the air is cold and damp. Mostly, I’m just eager to fly south and begin my winter activities. The earth boxes and garden are calling, the manatee are at the bayou wall, and my body is screaming for outdoor yoga. Still. I had a blast at the zoo today and the high point was observing Molly and Vahzhno. The cold weather had the beavers moving aspen logs, the otters streaking about, the red wolves howling, the Snowy Owl preening, the kestrel hunting his dead mouse- and Molly and Vahzhno were engaged in a charming display of courtship behavior. They share a large “hot rock” near an exhibit picture window and they were both lolling about on it for four or five hours. It was an intricate dance of come hither and let me swat you on the nose. Molly was doing that “cat in heat” sort of rolling, charming, reaching out, licking, nuzzling routine and Vahzhno appeared to be keenly aroused (I observed this personally) until there was nothing left to do but…smack, roar and retreat. Those two.

Anyway, I would be very happy to come back to Chicago in the Spring to tiger cubs. That would be delightful. Zoo births are always cause for excitement (except the hissing cockroaches. Who cares, if you know what I mean…) but tiger cubs would just be the cat’s pajamas. Here’s a great video clip of Molly and Vahzhno in action. Er, inaction.tiger1

And here’s Molly, before the weather turned really cold, expressing      her sentiments about this whole matchmaking business.

Still here and the zoo is all aglow

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Just a quick note, checking in. All is well. Thanksgiving was wonderful, with the children, Rich and Bud. Those kids. I have much to be thankful for there. Abby and Misha flew up from school and Daniel was here in town playing a show at Schubba’s the day after Thanksgiving. They didn’t go on until almost midnight and then they played a two hour set. I was beyond fading but Bud, who hadn’t ever really seen a live NOMO show, was grooving and clapping. He kept telling everyone, “That’s my grandson” and pretty soon he had a large following of 20-somethings dancing around him and patting him on the back and giving him lots of positive strokes for having such a fine musician in the family.

Bud was in fine form. I’m pretty much done listening to his nonsense about the wishes and needs of “an old man who probably won’t be around much longer.” He’s got that line down pat but he looks fit and stronger and healthier than ever. He  says things like, “If I don’t have a great-grandchild soon, who knows…” and “You wouldn’t deny an old man a third helping of potatoes, would you? Pass the salt and butter.” In addition to dancing into the wee hours we wandered all over the (cold. COLD. WINDY.) zoo. ZooLights are back at Lincoln Park and it’s very pretty with a dusting of snow. The night visitors make the lowland gorillas a bit grumpy; all the other animals seem to just ignore the increase in activity and noise.

I’m surrounded by half finished sweaters, felted slippers, socks, scarves. I go to bed at night picking wool fuzz out of my mouth and I know how the cats feel about hairballs. Soon, we make the trek south and that’s good because I’m already hunkering down and moving less in this cold. There’s lots more to tell, including a very weird encounter with HDTV, but I’m trying to prioritize here so I’ll be intermittent in posting. FC has a new pig- go check her out.

Did He who made the lamb make thee?*

(I took this at a great distance, through a chain link fence. Still, embiggen it. It’s a great photo for a small camera. Thanks, FC.)

Yesterday, Bud and Bruce and I went off to visit the Southwick Zoo in Mendon, MA. I always approach zoos with suspicion; the irony being that although I work in one, I’ve never been fond of the notion of captive animals and it’s difficult for me to witness them in small-ish enclosures when, you know, they should be free. Except of course, most all the animals in zoos today never have been and since man has so mucked up his relationship with the rest of the planet for years, now we are charged with the responsibility of caring for and protecting them in ways we wouldn’t have had to if we hadn’t decided they were here for our amusement and domination in the first place. But then again, it’s possible that early training in that direction prepares one well for later life. You never know when it might fall to you to decide the fate of one of the planet’s most magnificent species, like, say- polar bears.

Anyway, the Southwick Zoo is a private zoo plopped out in the middle of nowhere and they charge an outrageous admission (with no reciprocity to their fellow docents). Could be terrible, one would think. Surprise, surprise! Southwick Zoo is absolutely delightful in every respect. We ambled through the most gorgeous New England day, in a woodsy setting dotted with a sunny acre here and there and saw healthy, clean and, I dare say, contented animals at every turn. The place is spotless, the exhibits highly accessible and the broad scope impressive. It’s really a nice, nice place.

So, this baby white tiger caught my eye for a couple reasons. First off, we don’t have one at Lincoln Park- a youngster or a white one. We’re trying to encourage Molly to breed but thus far she has no interest in the fellow we’ve brought in for her. Also, this little guy was in the same enclosure with another young tiger so I assume they have been together since birth or very early on, because tigers are solitary animals except when they are breeding or very young. White tigers are a mutation linked to a rare recessive gene that occurs in about 1 in 10,000 tiger births, so they are striking and unusual, the subject of many myths. These kind of birth flukes often bring with them flaws and as a mutation, they have no place in a breeding population.  Zoos that work in cooperation with the Species Survival Plan put forth by the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) do not breed them, period. Southwick Zoo is a member of the AZA and is involved with the SSP for the protection and conservation of endangered species but this lovely youngster is not one of them. While we were there he was lolling about in tall grass and chasing, yes, butterflies.

Okay, I admit to enjoying the petting zoo areas of zoos. For those of us who rarely get close to deer and sheep and goats, being mobbed by them for corn can be a real hoot. Bud has lots of deer but he really enjoyed hand feeding them, too.

(Yes. The other goat is pooping away.)


Southwick has a large deer park at the far end of the zoo, covering a vast wooded area that appears to go on forever. But the deer know right where folks come in, corn in hand.

Uncle Buck Bruce has all of the enthusiastic, happy genes that run strong in this family and not very many of the ones that tip us to melancholy. He’s fun to be around because he is intensely curious about the world and full of positive energy. This photo captures him well.

(On second thought, it might not have been such a good idea to use the hat for corn.)

(I always snort at folks who have their Blackberries strapped to their right hip, like a techno weapon.)

This silly guy was a big hit. While all the signs were warning against getting too close to the porcupine lest he get anxious and start whizzing quills, he was doing everything but yelling, “Me! Me! I’m hopelessly cute, too!” trying to win our attention.

(I left all the photos large today-sorry for the slow loading, but they’re fun to enlarge.)

We saw lions and monkeys and wonderful red kangaroos nursing babies and giant tortoises. I didn’t see a single zoo employee and when I had a couple questions there was nary a docent there. Actually, the place was pretty well empty considering it was one of the most spectacular early autumn days I can remember. That made our visit especially nice and relaxed. Southwick Zoo is seasonal, closing in October. I don’t want to even think where all these critters spend the cold months of the year, but for now, with all of them living in spacious natural outdoor habitats with none of those dark, dank buildings that sometimes populate zoos- well, they too seemed nice and relaxed.

Tonight we head back to the airport and part ways, Bud flying through Minneapolis and I go directly to Chicago. I know he’s had a wonderful time and I sense that he is strongly torn: he loves his wilderness home and misses his cats but he’s lonely there, too. He talks more about this isolation and loneliness now but I think he’s not ready to give up his independence. We’ll plan another visit for Thanksgiving and then he’ll come to Florida for a spell this winter.

*No surprise that Mz. Bonnie knows that Edgar Guest wrote ‘it takes a heap of living to make a house a home.’ I think they teach that stuff at the Cow College University she attended. On the other hand, she will, of course, know this one as well. Speaking of cow colleges,  it must be a football Saturday…

Pimp My Ride

I discovered that gem on MTV while trying to find the food network. We recently got a new JUMBO screen television. GIGANTIC. It’s 32 inches of high definition and that’s 15 inches larger than anything we’ve previously owned. I know, I know- the rest of you have at least 42 inches. The nice thing is that it’s flat rather than the big butt things we’ve had taking up too much space heretofore. So now I could, if I chose, watch Pimp My Ride. Instead, I sift through 847 channels trying to find the one and only (food) show I want to watch. But what happened to truly quality tasteless television like Soupy Sales and Queen For A Day, anyway? With 800+ channels you would think someone would resurrect the mother of all reality TV, Queen for a Day.

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The doctor was pleasant , interested and remembered all my most memorable parts. I’m not overweight by her standards, I don’t have high blood pressure, I should go to the ENT guy about my right ear, I can learn to live with my arthritic thumb and no, I shouldn’t take Vitorin anymore. We have a very strong familial history of coronary artery disease, as in everyone on my paternal side died before they were 65, so my brother and sister and I are all over preventive treatment for that. Yes, I get a bone density test and no, I didn’t get snagged for a colonoscopy. That’s because they’ve changed the guidelines from 5 to 10 years if you are squeaky clean on your baseline, which I was 7 years ago. Hah!

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I had hoped for better for you. Monday morning I was at the zoo, chatting to people in the primate house. Our office is in that building so after we have our meeting and get the scoop on who moved, gave birth, was seen by the vet, arrived from another zoo and after we get the routine final advisory, “All naked mole rat babies missing, presumed eaten”- then we head out on our appointed rounds and for me, that’s spending the first part of the day in the primate house. Soon after the zoo opened a visitor observed that one of the Allen’s Swamp monkeys “had a problem.” Further investigation revealed that the mother had just given birth. I radioed the lead primate keeper who came for a look-see and said that we knew she was expecting but not when and that she was an experienced mother, this being her sixth. The large exhibit space is their familiar habitat and so she was left to carry on without intervention. Dad looked on from high up in a tree and the three youngsters (theirs) also in the habitat were as curious as could be. The year old, especially, wanted to touch the new baby but mom was only letting him so close. The baby was all goopy with little pointed alien ears and mom was kind of a rear end mess but she began to nurse him right away. The babies cling tight enough to be carried up into the canopy as soon as they are born. Allen’s swamp monkeys are a threatened species because they live in the Congo where civil war and starvation are the order of the day. This is another creature that is endangered by the bush meat crisis. These guys love water and are great little swimmers.

I was on watch for much of the day; that meant keeping the public back from the glass, preventing flash photos and calling the keeper at intervals with reports on mom and baby. I was so enamored with this pair by the time the day was over that I could hardly wait to get back with my camera and take some pictures. I took it with me Thursday and planned to post a picture for you yesterday but when I got there, mom and baby were off exhibit, probably for a check up and all I have for you is this sibling youngster. Hopelessly sweet. That reminds me. I need to go check for new baby pictures at Raehan’s place.