Few of you know, but hopefully many care, that I studied Ecology and Environmental Science in college. With that groundwork in place, I shall now reveal a secret about myself: I love nature. I enjoy learning about, viewing, talking about and even being in the nature world. It's humbling. It's delicate. It's perfectly balanced.
Like many, I sometimes require a reminder of our diverse, beautiful world. I live in the city of Tulsa, not a tent in Yellowstone. I have a much better chance of seeing an "Everybody Loves Raymond" marathon than I do a kangaroo and her joey. Sorry, I know you can't find kangaroos in Yellowstone, they're marsupials confined to Australia, but I have a cousin named Joey and writing about a baby kangaroo reminds me of him. What's up, Joey? How's the great state of Kentucky?
Recently, thanks to the Tulsa City/County Library, which I adore, I borrowed the BBC's Planet Earth. It's a DVD series on various habitats and organisms around the world. It's amazing. I was fully prepared to say, "At $80, who would buy this?" Borrowing fit my budget, albeit I am considering buying it. I buy very few DVDs. I buy even fewer $80 DVDs.
After watching several discs of the series and following threats from my girlfriend, we collectively decided to visit the Tulsa Zoo. I had been before, but it was years ago, so I was ready to see some animals. The last zoo I had visited was in Belize (belizezoo.org). I've been to the Belize Zoo about six times. It's a small zoo with a lot of pop.
If you're curious how a zoo can have pop or you're ever in the neighborhood you should stop in, but don't get to close to the tapirs because they might urinate on you.
Anytime I had a visitor in Belize I would take them to the zoo. All loved it, but none more than me.
The fox always seemed to be out of his cage. I'd find him roaming around the turtle pond. Typical. I could watch the jaguars pace for hours at only an arm's length. The punk rock chickens (or curassows) and otters always had me smiling.
The Tulsa Zoo is a different zoo with different, although equally rewarding, animal viewing opportunities. One thing I learned during my many visits to the Belize Zoo was that animals are more active around feeding time. I learned this took place at the end of the day. Watching a jaguar lay in a tree is a little less exciting than having a jaguar pace one foot from you.
"Look! No, no, no, behind the tree. Yeah, up there. You can see it, right?"
Was replaced with. "Yep, he could rip my face off. I know you would really like to stick your hand through that fence to pet him, but I place a great value on both my arms."
Playing It Safe
I didn't so much plan on going to the Tulsa Zoo in the late afternoon as I did sleep in on President's Day, but both seemed to work themselves out in my favor. It was a warm, sunny day. I was in a good mood as I approached the entrance gate to the zoo. My belly was full. My girlfriend was attached to my right hand. All was good. As we got closer to the entrance we saw a sign that read "President's Day: $1." Entrance for my kind, adults, is usually $6.04 and doubling that for the girlfriend would mean I saved more than $10. My math skills are desirous.
After the savings became a reality, on the inside of the entrance gate, I said, "Everyone is stupid but us." You might find that offensive as you were not there, but you shouldn't. It's more of a celebration of my luck than of your lack thereof. It's just something I say infrequently when things seem to fall into place unexpectedly. I could have borrowed it from Homer Simpson. It sounds like something he would say.
It was a good day. I was going to see meerkats, chimps, and tortoises.
We started with the polar bears. It was a bust. The polar bears were not to be seen, much like their cousins in the wild. A trend I hope will reverse itself.
Our luck shifts as two collared peccaries are swapping butterfly kisses at the next large exhibit. Peccaries are common in Belize, but the Tulsa peccaries have one noticeable difference from their counterparts at the Belize Zoo: odor. The three peccaries at the Tulsa Zoo produce a lot less of it than the thirty in Belize. I remember the smell. Peccaries are stinkers, but you miss that in Green Country.
I'll spare you the details of each individual exhibit. If you're curious, visit the zoo. It's a great place to take the kids or parents on a sunny day. Take a picnic, a little water and your walking shoes. I walked more than three miles, so it's a good way to get in some exercise and learn a thing or two.
As the day at the zoo drew to a close the penguins got my attention. Penguins are darlings. They aren't the best smelling animal, but they have a walk about them. They were about to have dinner and were mulling about their exhibit. All seemed intent on getting the best meal.
Then the king of the zoo, the lion, let out a roar of hunger from a neighboring exhibit. Children throughout the zoo sprinted to see the action. "Whoa! Did you hear that, dude?!" The king had spoken. The children weren't the only animals on the move. The penguins shuffled their way to the far end of the exhibit. Being creatures of the wild, they had the sense to go in the opposite direction of the most ferocious sound in the world.
As I observed the penguins, a sea lion let out an amusing, yet intimidating, bark. A sing-off ensued that Joey Fatone would have had trouble judging. Back and forth the sea and land lions sang. Dinner was served. Silence.
Like the zoo, I have saved the best for last: the chimpanzees, our closest relative in the natural world. The one-year birthday of Vindi, the chimp, occurred earlier in February. I mention it because Vindi is cuter than a button.
I always find it interesting to observe humans at the zoo. Most people stay at each exhibit for a minute or two. All of my peers at the chimp exhibit stayed and stared for more than 10 minutes. The chimps are active, playful and the adorable babies don't hurt. For me it's a reminder that we share 99 percent of our genes with these creatures. It's their eyes. Their thumbs. My thumbs. It's humbling.
As a young boy gleefully called for his mother's attention, "Look, Momma! Look!" I pondered the futures of the boy and Vindi. Due to habitat loss, are zoos the last haven for some of these species? Is looking enough? How delicate is our world? Did that chimp just eat its booger?
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