This week we are writing about experiences in parks, fairs, zoos, etc. I suggested this topic because I have the story of a long day I spent at a zoo that I wrote long ago and have been waiting to post. In light of recent tragic incidences, however, I do hope no one finds offense. This day happened nearly thirty years ago.
When our sons were small, we lived in the Denver area. We often took day trips to the mountains, but we spent many in the Natural Museum and at the zoo.
For the mountains and the zoo, after a big breakfast we’d take off early to pick up items for lunch and snacks, so we could spend the whole day in those places.
We’d take our not-so-little red wagon so we could have our food along and also to pull the kids when they got tired.
Even back then, the Denver zoo was sprawling with exhibits and houses. One of the first stops was to see the seals and sea lions being fed, then on to the ibexes, kangaroos, elephants and camels, etc. We went to the nocturnal animal houses, (the little one loved marmots), and to the smaller places that had bugs and reptiles, on to the birds in the big house or the ones in smaller cages down near the larger animals. (One had a mynah bird named Bunker Hill who liked to talk. We think he may have been aboard the Naval carrier by the same name.)
One this particular day we were halfway through the zoo and we walked past the Colorado Predators exhibit, which had everything from birds,(eagles, owls, hawks), to mountain lions. We went to the side where the pumas were situated. Their cage was large, with tiers that looked very much like their native habitat, sandstone ledges.
I walked with our older son, my husband pulled the wagon and our littler boy, who was about three, walked along side. Suddenly, I saw the biggest male mountain lion with his eyes on the smaller boy. He quickly slinked down from a high ledge and eyed my child hungrily. Although he was behind a cage, I got between them. I could see that he would have pounced on the boy if he only could. After we got both boys away from in front of the puma, I snapped this picture:
We hustled away and I realized that the cat was probably attracted by the smell of fried chicken in our lunch, but had associated it with what he considered the small prey he could see…my little boy.
Right then and there, I decided it would never be on the menu of our future outings into the mountains…lest another puma might think that our son tasted like chicken.
The last stop we usually made was the Feline House, (which many other zoos unabashedly call a “Cat House”).It was near the entrance/exit, on our way out. Cats are a favorite animal of ours, but this day, I was tired. While my husband took the boys over to the far end to see the largest area with a pride of lions, I stayed back when I spotted a new exhibit.
There was one little meerkat in a cage .His exhibit was made of cement with holes and tunnels for him to run through and the background was painted to look like the Kalahari. It was lovely; you can see a section of it in the picture:
The little fellow would run up and down through the tunnels and stand, as they do, looking about. I stood there for a while reading the sign below it, which explained that although it was in the Feline House and it was called a ‘kat’, it wasn’t one, and it was filled with additional information. Watching the meerkat made me smile. After a few minutes, two young women came up beside me.
“Ooooooh! Look at the cute little ferret!” said one. “Oh, I LOVE little ferrets!” said the other. “Isn’t it a cute ferret?!” “Yeah, I love ferrets!” I excused myself and explained that it was, indeed, a meerkat.
They stared at me.
“Oh, look at it! I love little ferrets!” said one. “I know, it’s so CUTE! I love it!” cried the other. I said, (pointing to the sign), “It’s a meerkat, see?” The stared at me again, and called to their friend, “Hey, Whatever-her-name-was, come and see the cute little ferret!” “Yeah, come and look at this ferret!” And newcomer said, “Oh, isn’t it CUTE? I love ferrets!” “I know! Look at it! Aren’t ferrets cute?”
So I walked away, while the same conversation about looking at and loving cute little ferrets that had been going on by the two was now being carried on by three.
As I walked back near the entrance, a big fool who should have been old enough to know better was slamming his hand against the glass at the zoo’s huge male tiger, who was angry and slapping back. Two other people and I told him to stop, but he was quite pleased to be able to get the magnificent animal riled up. In short order a woman keeper came out and gave the man a thorough dressing-down, including telling him that here it was feeding time and they had to go in there with him to give him his dinner, and although he was beautiful, he was, after all, a full-grown male tiger.(Sorry, I didn’t get a picture.)
The fool left and the keeper looked at me, shaking her head. “That’s probably the dumbest thing he ever did” she said. I told her, “Don’t bet on it. Anybody that stupid is bound to have pulled a number of boners in his life.”
I looked back and saw that the cute little ferret lovers were gone, so I headed back for the meerkat. I slowed my pace when I saw that a studious-looking kid about 14 was on a path about to intersect with mine. I said to myself, “What’s wrong? You like nerds, you married one”, and so I kept walking. (Really, that is what I said to myself.)
Just after I got there, the young man looked into the exhibit and got all excited. “Hey, Mom! Look, a MEEKRAT! A meekrat, Mom!” A very well-dressed woman joined us and asked, “What is it?” Again he said, “A meekrat! We studied about them in school!”
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I had already fought and lost one battle on that front.
I called out to my own fellas, “Come on, Guys, it’s time to go home.”
It had been a really long day at the zoo.