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September 25, 2023

Zoo Magic

By Lydia Manx

During one of the past weekends, a favorite friend of mine called me around ten am and asked if I wanted to go to the zoo with her and the two grandkids. Since I'd never been to the state's zoo, I was torn. I was mostly without a voice and feeling pretty sick from whatever was creeping through my veins, robbing me of most of my get-up-and-go along with the ability to keep my eyes open. Then I remembered one of my semi-annual New Year's Eve resolutions -- you know the one -- to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. As a writer, I tend to poke the hornet nest and observe, but not always get into the thick of things. (Long sticks and a healthy respect for pissed-off hornets help.) So I coughed weakly and warned her I was possibly sick with a cold and didn't want the grandsons to get sick. Her amusingly cold-hearted reply: "I am taking them home tomorrow so I don't care." (Yeah, she's a tad upset with her daughter.)

She arrived a little more than an hour later with two bouncing balls of boy energy. One is three and the other is four -- nearly five! So I understood her desire to have another adult with her, given the hyper boys. The drive was about an hour from my place, and mid-way through the journey the kids were both complaining about how long it was, and asking, "When are we going to get there?"

We'd already fed them snacks, and one of the boys is allergic to apples -- so the apple in the older brother's snack type lunch was being used as a weapon of destruction. I found myself saying those classic words, "Stay on your side of the car and stop tormenting your brother."

Eeek ... and this is why I never parented. I hated hearing that as a kid and loved the tormenting of the younger kids at times. Double the numbers of kids (there were four of us) and you can see the potential for my mom to often say that other classic, "Knock it off or we'll turn this car around." Years later I figured out that was an empty threat because my mom really needed to visit with other adults before she went crazy.

We approached the zoo on a sunny day with no rain in sight -- we noticed right off the bat that many other folks had the same idea and had arrived much earlier than us. As it was just after noon, the park already had most of the first section of the parking lot full, and we ended up a bit of a walk from the entrance. The boys weren't into 'baby' stuff so we didn't have strollers, but stubborn stubby-legged 'boys' to wrangle. MeMa (my friend's grandma name) had the youngest in hand and I sweet-talked the prankster along slowly. MeMa thought it might be a good idea to rent one of the buggy-styled bike/carriage set ups so the boys wouldn't run off. I was pretty skeptical at the idea of the both of us doing all the biking while the boys sat like kings in front of us. Reserving judgment at the idea, I just followed along.

The entrance was small and reminded me of the old Griffith Park in Los Angeles where my mom used to take us kids during outings. Having lived in Southern California most of my life, I'd had passes to the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park most of my years living there. Anyone who has been to either of the San Diego Zoos knows that they are both huge and pretty famous; the Griffith Park Zoo was quaint, and easily accessible to little kids walking around without being overwhelming. My mom said that she liked that we could visit and not get exhausted -- as there were the four of us kids, along with other relatives. At those times that was an important feature. This little zoo quickly reminded me of my childhood.

With the sibling rivalry that is common, there was 'share time' and reminders not to push each other. The boys began to sing out where they wanted to go. First MeMa wanted to check out the price of the bikes or as they were called "Safari Cycles." The line to rent them wrapped snake-like through a huge section of the rental booth, and we concluded we'd skip renting for the moment and let the boys walk us where they wanted, until they were too tired or something.

So began the four and a half-hour walking the paths. We went to see the tigers first, but they followed their noses towards the stinky Malayan tapir pit. They were thrilled. I was looking with wide eyes at the enclosures, shocked as how easily the walls looked to scale. The pathway had waist high fencing or walls that had maybe three feet in distance to another equally short fence and then the drop off to the moat and animals. I could see immediately why MeMa had me. Both boys naturally tried to scale the walls and wanted to pet various vicious and disturbingly large animals.

The Cuban crocodile was dismissed quickly, as it was something the boys were pretty familiar with since they lived near alligators most of their lives. The Malayan sun bear was hiding, but I was able to show both of them how to spy the sleeping animal on the other side of his open enclosure.

The zoo was still setting up for an interactive Dinosaurs 'come alive' type exhibit that started later in January. The animatronics hadn't been added the Saturday we were visiting, but plenty of large colorful beasts were scattered between the exhibits. We came to the first really large dinosaur exhibit of a prehistoric bird. With giggles and laughter, the boys dragged us to a dingy corner of the next exhibit. It was there I saw the Cassowary bird. It looked very much like the dino just down the pathway. And so went the adventures through the walkways. Every time we got near some of the exotics, there were the dinos that were related to those animals. The boys were extremely excited and I was pretty impressed with the hard work done to get the exhibits ready for the coming exhibit which runs until the second week in May.

The tiger was impressive in his 'Temple' and again, the seemingly short distance to the apex predator was rather disturbing. I am pretty sure that the gibbons and howler monkeys would be able to swing over the moat and visit us if they were bored, but thankfully, none made the jump while we were there.

The Zoo takes into consideration the guests in the park and have watering stations -- not just drinking fountains either. There are a number of large standing misters; you push a button and water spritzes down on the people. They also have a few play areas. The largest is a mini-water-park where the kids run amok, shrieking louder than the monkeys. A smaller one is in a plaza with live music and the fountains that spring up in a random pattern soaking anyone on the pavement.

I was amazed by the vast number of animals I never had seen before in the West Coast zoos I'd visited. The tropical weather here allowed the zoo far more creatures that needed extreme heats. The jaguar was absolutely stunning. Giant river otters reminded me of sea lions, but were as playful as any Sea World creatures I'd seen in San Diego. They were sleeker than seals but nearly as large.

One of the largest birds I've seen ever in captivity was on display. It was a Panama harpy eagle. I couldn't believe that it was real. The boys were pretty excited, as MeMa had spent time in Panama, so they wanted to know if she'd ever seen one. The bird was large enough to pick up either of the boys without much effort and she happily reported she didn't recall ever seeing one.

Skeleton of Panama Harpy Eagle

The park closes around five, so we started making our way back to the entrance that also serves as an exit. The boys really didn't wear out until the last bit out of the park. MeMa and I were exhausted, and thankful that we hadn't rented the cycles, because once we headed home the kids were sleeping solidly. We hope to make it back to see the dino exhibit, but who knows. All in all, a wonderful way to spend a lovely afternoon, seeing a zoo through the eyes of children.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-05-04
Image(s) © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
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