Saturday, July 31, 2010

Otterly Adorable

I’d apologize for having yet another Asian small-clawed otter post, but I suspect that most of you are as charmed by them as I am. At least, I haven’t heard any complaints yet (she said unwisely).

Certainly everyone who visits the zoo is thrilled to see them; I can always tell which part of their large enclosure they’ve moved to because the group of people gathered around that area will all suddenly, spontaneously exclaim, “Awwww….”

In fact, many people—mostly children, but also adults—are moved to say longingly, “I just want to hold one!”

A number of children express the desire for a pet otter. Some of the younger ones appeal immediately to their parents with “Can we? Please? Can we?”—apparently believing or hoping that, if their mom or dad says yes, they could purchase one right from the zoo. (Not that I’m mocking these children, mind you; when I was very little, I desperately wanted a tiny, living cartoon dog as a pet and was convinced that it was possible to get one.)

Parents have a number of ways of dealing with their children’s pleas. The response I heard most recently, and liked best, was a mother’s diplomatic, “They’d need a river, honey, and we don’t have one where we live.”

“We could build a river!” the little girl exclaimed. You could tell that in that instant she had had a vision of, if not the whole design and development process, then at least the final product, with water flowing through the backyard and otters frolicking in it.

“Well, I don’t know, honey… I think otters are a lot of work to take care of. Let’s wait until you’re a little older and see if you still want to build a river,” her mother said, trying not to smile.

“We could build a stream…” the little girl said thoughtfully as she watched the otters, engrossed. I liked this kid: she had big ideas, but she was a pragmatist, too, willing to scale down her landscaping plans in order to achieve her larger goal.

Overall, I was quite impressed by the detailed, long-term nature of her plan. Most people don’t get much farther than wanting to pet an otter: this kid envisioned diverting whole water systems. I only hope that once she grows up she’ll use her powers for conservation purposes and not for habitat-destructive, industrial ones. I guess only time will tell if she still wants to build a river.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Flamingo Friday: Geometry

One of the many things I like about flamingos is that they create so many interesting angles and curves as they rest on one leg or preen or eat or snarkily bill at one another.

Sometimes they form just a single lovely line:

And sometimes they end up making repeating curves:

But there’s always a fascinating aesthetic pleasure to their shapes, even if they make them while in a moment of ungainliness (of which they have many—how many other birds regularly lose their footing and bump into one another?). It makes me wonder again whether flamingos are awkward birds that demonstrate moments of gracefulness or graceful birds that exhibit (sometimes frequent) moments of awkwardness.

Hard to say. Maybe I should just take the pictures and quit philosophizing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

One Good Shot

I feel I’ve been overdoing it with a surfeit of photos lately, so I’m trying to pare down a little. As I was hanging around the orangutan enclosure last week, this orangutan, who was in the doorway, not seeming particularly interested in coming out into the horrible heat of the sunlit yard (and who would be?), heard a gaggle of children walking by and turned to look at them.

I really like the orangutan’s expression, which seems both tolerant and slightly world-weary (“Ah, kids…”). Or maybe what I like best is the rakish angle at which the stem dangles from his/her lips.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?

I've mentioned before how much I enjoy images that are animal synecdoches, and I thought it might be fun to present a few of these to you and let you play Guess That Animal. (You don't have to play; you can just look at the pictures if you're not that kind of person.) None of them should pose too much of a challenge, although some of them are photos of animals from elsewhere than the zoo. Ready? Excellent.
















That's all, folks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wild Wildlife: A Nice Shot on a Good Day

I am proud of this close-up of a dragonfly, which I took at the pond outside the zoo's birdhouse--not because it's the best shot ever, although I do like it, but because in order to get it I had to lean 'way over the wooden railing in the hot sun and position the camera, at arms' length, right in front of the insect. If the weather had not broken, becoming relatively dry and cool and pleasantly summery, after having been, for weeks, very like a sauna or a more humid version of hell, I would never have been able to stand it long enough to get the picture.

Monday, July 26, 2010

An Interesting Misapprehension

(with an emphasis on “apprehension.”)

The male cuttlefish in the invertebrate exhibit, which is apparently more flamboyant than the female (from whom, by the way, they have to keep him separated so he won’t eat her), was really showing off his color- and texture-changing abilities, making his skin stippled and bumpy, then smooth again, and developing all sorts of dramatic black-and-white stripes—all this while hanging suspended high in the water, tentacles extended dramatically like the raised arms of a magician.

A little boy who was visiting the zoo with his grandfather took one look and cried fearfully, “Is it a dragon?”

Even though his grandfather assured that it was no such thing, he refused to come near the tank.

I felt very sorry for him, but I was also fascinated by his immediate identification of this marine creature with a mythical, fire-breathing beast. I have to admit, since that moment, my own perception of dragons has changed.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Otters in Water

Depending on your pronunciation of these two words, you have to stretch a little for the rhyme, but oh well.

In the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve stopped by the small-clawed otter exhibit I’ve found the otters being remarkably active, given the heat—although, since many of their activities involved being submerged in water, maybe that’s not so surprising. Sometimes they’ll run along the entire length of the enclosure in their shallow stream, sometimes they’ll swim in the pool that’s set conveniently against the glass viewing wall. A few times they’ve started frolicking in the water, mock-fighting or playing with stones and shells and occasionally gnawing on those same items. Unfortunately, because of the combination of water and that same convenient glass wall, it’s very difficult to take pictures of them that aren’t distorted or full of reflections of, say, my sandals (it creates an interestingly surreal, double-exposure effect but is not what I intended). But I was able to find a few pictures that were technically decent and, I believe, captured the moment.

Playing with stones in the water:

Gnawing on things:


The photos can't do them justice—for one thing, the little buggers move around so quickly that I rarely get a decent shot of them—but it's also just more fun to see their antics in person. If you can stand the heat, that is. My last visit, I was sorely tempted to dive in and join them, and I'm trying to avoid their exhibit until I get that impulse under control. It never looks good on one's resume to have been banned from the zoo after traumatizing a tank-full of otters...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Flamingo Friday: They Grow Up So Fast

It’s been a little less than a month since these two flamingelehs hatched (one on June 27 and one on June 30), and yet look at how they’ve grown, even since my first post about them!

To give you an idea of how rapidly they’ve shot up, I’ve posted some photos in chronological order below, with the younger of the two always on the left:






(As a side note, if the protocol for tagging is the same on fledglings as on adults, then both of the young’uns are female. But maybe they just put tags on the left legs of flamingelehs regardless of sex.)

The adults’ attitudes towards them seem to be changing, as well. They’re still protective of them—on Wednesday I saw one grab the bigger flamingeleh’s fuzzy back in its beak and pull it away from the fence where, on the other side, workers were planting bushes—but they’re a little more cavalier around them now, and they’re not as concerned about bumping into them as they engage in their frequent honking/billing squabbles. And from what desultory research I’ve done, it looks like the little flamingos will only be getting fed crop milk for another month—then they’ll have to find food for themselves (well, out of what the zoo gives them).

[the adults used to be so watchful! 7/10/2010]

They were so cute, so young, so loving!

And now? Moving into the awkward adolescent stage already, it looks like. Pretty soon they’ll be complaining about how none of the adults understand them and clamoring for later curfews and their own iPods…

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This Time We Fool You

(To quote Chico Marx.)

In the pond outside the zoo’s birdhouse is a metal sculpture of a hippo with a bird on its back. Even though the sculpture is at most one-half the size of a real hippo, it’s very lifelike, especially since it’s semi-submerged in the waters of the pond, the hippo’s head and back just breaking the surface. I’m not sure if it was designed by the zoo as some sort of cruel joke, as a means of compensating for the lack of actual hippos, or just as something pretty, but every day children shriek with excitement and adults do double-takes, thinking that they’re seeing a real hippopotamus with a real bird on its back—and every day children are disappointed and adults are embarrassed when they realize they’ve been fooled.

That’s why I liked seeing this:

[one of these things
is not like the others...]

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Petting Zoo"

The zoo very wisely calls it the “Kids’ Farm,” thus lowering expectations that anyone will be able to pet anything. And it is highly unlikely that a visitor will be able to pet anything: the rabbits are always untouchable in their protected shed, and the donkeys, cows, alpacas and goats tend to stay under trees, or in the middle of the grass, or in the center of their enclosures, meditatively chewing in the fashion of ruminants and exhibiting no interest whatsoever in being caressed by small children (or adults, for that matter).

The people, on the other hand, are full of excitement, and, having overheard a number of parent-child conversations, I’m left wondering if kids are taught at an early age to point and exclaim self-evidently, “Look! A cow!”—or if we all have an atavistic need to share the pleasure of seeing something with others by informing them of what they’re already seeing for themselves. (Sometimes we like to do it by asking a question, like, “Do you see the goat?!”) It also makes me curious about the way that we—myself included—react to the approach of an animal by saying, “Hello, [insert animal name here].” Is it a knee-jerk courtesy, like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes? Is it evidence of our desire for inter-species connection? Do we imagine the animals have any idea what we’re talking about?

But the petting zoo—excuse me, “kids’ farm”—is a lot of fun, since it’s entertaining (at least, for an urbanite like me) to watch the behaviors of even relatively common animals like these domestic ones. It’s fun to see the donkeys gnawing intently on logs, the goats raise their heads in unison at the sound of a car stereo blasting on Rock Creek Parkway, the newly sheared alpacas lounging luxuriously in the grass.

["Did you hear that awful music, Gladys?"
"Terrible! I prefer Lady BaaBaa myself."]

Plus, the goats have a little play-set to clamber around on, and there is almost nothing better than seeing goats hanging out on equipment you remember from fourth-grade recess.

Well, seeing the goats butt the brats you remember from fourth-grade recess: that would be even better.

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