Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sunday at the zoo

On Sunday Isaac and Gretel decided we should go to the zoo. Tristan has been saving "stars" (rewards for exceptional good behaviour) and had been promised a trip to the zoo when he got 15 of them. We headed off to the zoo which is about a half hour's drive on the 401 northeast of our house. When we got there I saw hundreds of geese on a snowy slope by the parking lot, I wondered if they were the same geese I'd seen the day before flying overhead. I speculate that they spend their days "grazing" at the zoo, and return in the late afternoon to their home on the lakeshore.

The zoo stays open over winter, but many exhibits close. The list of closed exhibits was very long! But, we got to see a rhino and a hippo, orangutans and gorillas, tigers and meerkats. And more.

The tigers were outdoors, there were three in one enclosure and one in another. The tigers were very playful, playing tag in the snow, running around and around the trail in their exhibit. Reminded me of the Little Black Sambo story. Later we were talking to a zookeeper and she said you are supposed to be able to tell tigers apart by the facial markings. Good luck with that! She said they do not normally live in snowy areas but adapt very well to the cold and snow, growing a thick undercoat for the circumstances. The three together were a mother and two grown cubs, the one alone was the father. The tiger in the photo is one of the cubs.

She also told us about the apes that we had been watching. Turns out they all have private areas and public areas. The apes get to choose whether they will go in the public exhibit area or not. So for example, there were supposed to be a male and a couple of females in the public area before noon, but the females chose not to go so only the male was there. The keeper told us that the private quarters for the apes are so nice that when the zookeepers first saw them they wondered if the apes would ever consent to go on display. But apparently they do.

In the afternoon there was a huge male, a mother and baby and another female. The male was twice the size of the females at least and he had long long hair that trailed on the ground behind him. The baby was very mischievous, he would go right up to the male and swat his face trying to get a reaction. His mother likes to interact with the public, she has a spot by the window where she has made a little seat for herself of rags and she sits there watching the people.

Today she was very delicately picking her nose, to the great delight of the children watching. The other female found an old T-shirt in the enclosure and was wearing it. The baby was trying to get it off of her. We learned from the zookeeper that the mother was in her late 40s and this baby was a big surprise to everyone. Its father, not the male we saw, is in his 50s.

We saw meerkats in an indoor enclosure with a window view outdoors. One meerkat always stands on guard and today he was staring out the window. Off in the distance you could see the Canada Geese on the slope, he watched them very intently. The other meerkats played obliviously around him. When the one meerkat tired of standing guard, another one instantly took his place.

I know lots of people have trouble with the idea of zoos. But this zoo is very well set up and it is nice to know that some of the animals at least have a choice in whether they go on display or not.

I have heard zoos justified on two counts, one is educating visitors, especially children, on the dire state that many wild animal populations are in. Kids see these animals in zoos and learn enough about them to be concerned about their welfare. The other is that many of the larger animals are so endangered in the wild that they may not survive at all, if not for captive populations. For example the Indian Rhino we saw was one of 140 in captivity in the world. The wild population is around 2,000, but before strong conservation measures were taken, the wild population had fallen below 500. I didn't think the rhino looked all that happy in his rather small indoor enclosure, but his presence here does help people to understand how important it is to protect wild populations from poaching (they are hunted and killed for their horns which are highly valued for rather questionable medicinal uses) and habitat destruction.

Isaac has a wonderful new camera that he bought from a professional photographer and got some great pictures of the animals, particularly the tigers playing tag, but the few pictures I took did not turn out so well so I'm only posting a couple that did.

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