Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another trip to another zoo

I have always loved zoos. Merced has a little zoo, which I visited for the first time today. It's not big--if you weren't inclined to actually stop and look at anything, you could walk all the way around in just a few minutes. But I was inclined to stop and look.

At a coyote...

...some bobcats...

...and some totally badass emus. I'm pretty familiar with emus, having dissected one, and naturally I'm interested in them because they're (a) big extant saurischians, and (b) have inflatable throat-sacs. I've read about the throat-sac, even stuck my hand in one, but I'd never actually gotten to hear an emu using it. Then this emu walked right up to the fence, stared me in the eye, and started burping at me. At least that's what it sounded like: a really deep, internal burp. The bird's mouth didn't open and no sound or stomach gas came out. It was all inside.

Naturally I stepped up to the fence and burped back. You know how you can make a loud burp in your throat, even though your mouth is closed? That's what I did. So we stood there burping at each other for a few minutes. No lie.

Good thing the zoo was not heavily attended at the time...

My favorite critters today were the mountain lions. I went in the morning, before it got hot, and they were all outside and active, padding around.

Man, are they gorgeous animals, or what?

Also checked out this momma bear...

...and her playful cub. And he was playful, too, bouncing between the pool, a nice perch up in a dead tree, this hammock, and his mom for reassurance. It's behavior I've seen before in a certain diminutive primate of my acquaintance.

These raccoons cracked me up. A bunch of them were asleep on a branch, monorail-cat style, the first time I walked by, but the second time they were running all over the place, checking people out. From the intensity of their scrutiny, I was uncertain whether they were in the zoo for my edification and enjoyment, or I was in for theirs.

I almost hate to post pictures from the zoo because all you see is fencing. Most of the animals in the Merced Zoo are rescued critters; if they weren't in the zoo, they'd be dead. And I'm pretty pro-zoo anyway. First, because I really like going to the zoo. Always have. Second, because of the conservation work they do in terms of animal breeding and so on. Finally and most importantly, because I really believe that they do a vital service in letting us see endangered wildlife. I'm not crazy about the fact that almost no zoo animals have as much space as they actually need, but if we never get to see the critters then their extermination is a hypothetical problem. When I was a kid, seeing a tiger in a zoo made me about 100 times more concerned about the fate of its wild relatives. Heck, when I was a kid there were a lot of animals that I wouldn't have known existed if I hadn't seen them in zoos (Himalayan tahr, I'm lookin' at you). I doubt if I was or am alone.

At the same time, it hardly ever occurs to me to go to the zoo. Witness the fact that I've lived in Merced for more than a year, and only got to the zoo a month before moving away. I did make it to the San Francisco Zoo about three times and the Oakland Zoo once when we lived in Santa Cruz and then Berkeley, but that's four zoo trips in six years. Not impressive. (I'm not counting the visit to the San Diego Zoo last summer; that was a planned part of a vacation, not just some time I got a wild hair to go to the zoo.)

But heck, there are very few things I do as often as I'd like--I've only been to one real arena-style concert since moving to Cali, for example. And too many things I do too often. Like staying up too late blogging. Which I've now done again.


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