Monday, November 8, 2010

Not-So-Wild-Life: Sunday Morning at the “Kids’ Farm”

Yesterday I took an early-morning walk in the zoo (made less early by having gained an hour—hooray for the end of that abomination, Daylight Savings Time!). It was pretty chilly, and not too many animals were out, although the river otters gave me (as per usual) some dark looks, one of the pandas crunched away at a big stalk of bamboo, and the flamingos were feeding and honking up a storm (more about them on Flamingo Friday). My camera was running out of battery power, and—as I said—it was kind of cold, so I decided to head back out. But on my way back from the outdoor bird exhibits, I had a couple of animal encounters that impressed me quite a bit.

The first happened as I was walking along the boardwalk that leads between the bird-house ponds back to the Asia Trail; these ponds are almost always full of mallards, and yesterday was no exception. As I walked, one female mallard was either startled or needed a very immediate change of place, because she burst out of the water in the pond to my left and flew over the boardwalk into the pond to my right. She passed two feet in front of me, flying at head-height, and I saw the water droplets falling from her, heard the rush of air and saw her wing muscles working furiously as she beat them. I know that ducks, once they’re airborne, can travel along without too much exertion, but this was just after take-off, and the intensity of her effort was incredible: her neck was stretched—straining—forward, her wings pounded, even the sunlight that struck her feathers appeared to pulse from her with the energy and power of her passage. The instant she was in front of me seemed to last a half a minute at least, although I’m sure that in reality in was only a second or two—and then she was past, and splashing into the water of the other pond.

The second occurred as I was on my way out of the zoo and decided to stop by the Kids’ Farm (“petting zoo” suggests you can actually reach the animals to pet them). I rarely stop there, but I was on my way home, my camera was almost out of juice, and I was feelingly pleasantly without obligations, even to myself, so I wandered along and leaned against the rail, basking in the sun and watching the alpacas and cows graze and drink from a barrel of water.

One of the cows ended up grazing near the fence, and I decided I'd try out something that I’d read about in a book by Temple Grandin: apparently cows feel less threatened, and more inquisitive, about people if they (the people) are lower than the cows. In fact, if you want cows in a field or pasture to approach you, it’s a good idea to lie down; this will make them more likely to stroll over and investigate you. I wasn’t in the field with the cow, so lying down seemed silly, but I did squat down so that I was peering up through the lowest of the slats in the fence. To my amazement, the cow stopped her grazing for a while and came over to investigate, thrusting her giant, stippled nose through the fence to snuffle me (though I tried to keep a centimeter or two of space between us; being smeared with cow-snot is not my idea of a good cross-species interaction). Although the suddenness of her approach, along with the angle and proximity, didn’t allow me much time to focus, I was able to take a couple of pictures that, I believe, appropriately capture the encounter:

After a little while the cow determined that I was neither edible nor about to feed her and went back to browsing. I left the zoo wearing a goofy grin, my mind’s eye still full of cow-nose. It was great.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Anca said...

That alpaca has a halo around its head! Holy Alpaca!

Dy said...

Oh Temple Grandin is such an inspriation and so smart about those kinds of things! And the fact it helped you in a way to greet the cow and snap precious photos! I love all of it....

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Yeah, Temple Grandin is *brilliant* and provides wonderful, illuminating insights about animals and their perspectives on the world. I should write her a fan letter about cows!

Adrian said...

People like to use "cow" as an insult, but cows, especially in these pictures, can be so *cute*--strange thing to say, maybe, but still true!

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