Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears

But mainly bears. It was painfully hot this past long weekend, so my intended brisk afternoon walk through the zoo became a painful stumbling crawl through the areas nearest to the entrance, which means I saw some alpacas busily browsing, the monkeys and spoonbills munching on snacks, and the spectacled bear cubs, who are pretty huge by now but are still pretty darn cute—at least to me.

And that got me thinking. The lion cubs were cute, too, and even now that they’re so big and adult-looking, they have a certain charm. But even when the lion cubs were very little, it was clear they were lions—big scary predators full of snarls and hunger and teeth.

The bears, on the other hand… They just seem so much cuddlier than the lions. It’s not that I don’t think they could crush my head or anything—and, in fact, one of the cubs was gnawing on a bone when I arrived at their enclosure—but still, it was gnawing in a cute way!

This isn’t my reaction to all bears, mind you—polar bears and grizzlies scare the hell out of me. So what is it about these guys that seems so—if not harmless—then unthreatening?

I think it has to be the absence of what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call predatory intensity. Maybe it’s because these bears are omnivores rather than carnivores that they’ve lost that hunter’s focus: the tight grip on the bone, the sharp, electric gaze that follows whatever can be perceived as prey.

These guys were missing that the whole time I watched them, whether they were gnawing on bones or trundling over to sniff the handfuls of fruit and veggies that a keeper tossed them from on high like favors thrown from a Mardi Gras float (but with less panache).

There’s a nonchalance about these bears that’s nothing like the piercing intensity of lions’ attention or the chilling, slightly psychotic glare of tigers.

Instead, they go after a piece of pear, or climb into a mulberry tree to satisfy their sweet tooth, or get distracted by whatever’s around them.

I’m not saying I’d jump in the exhibit and try to pet them, but, let's face it: no creature that stops and smells the daisies is going to win the Intimidating Animal Award. The Endearing Animal Award, on the other hand...

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


Anca said...

Great post, with photos to prove your point.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thrilling photos, Olivia. We have just watched a short film about two Tiger cubs at the D.C, zoo. Lots of fun on National Geographic Kids.

Kathleen Cunningham said...

Bears don't have that terrifying stare that large cats do & they don't seem as focused on mayhem. Your pix are charming. Bears & daisies-maybe you could get Disney interested in a film? My niece-in-law has a book coming out about the horses at Greenfield Village. Maybe you could interest the Natl. Zoo in a book about the zoo? Bears are on my mind because a 400 lb.bear was found rambling around Traverse City this weekend wreaking some destruction & causing alarm. There has also been a large increase in bear sitings in the Sleeping Bear Natl. Park. Go back to sleep little bears before my visit!

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