Smiles and Sass

How often do you get to see a baby elephant smile?

Rose and Daisy

 Or have a long chat face to face with a pair of sassy lorikeets? Or hang out with a spider monkey while he finishes his lunch?

Not often? Me either, but that’s just what Jim and I did a few days ago when we visited the Rio Grande Zoo here in Albuquerque. The weather was blustery, alternating between bright blue skies, lowering clouds, wind, and sometimes all three simultaneously. In other words, a typical late April day in northern New Mexico.

We arrived shortly before noon and began our wander down by the lake and central green. Lunch groups were scattered on the fresh green lawns under the shelter of trees that had only partially leafed out. The prime season for flowering fruit trees was over, but a bright clump of blossoms still showed here and there. Elaborate bearded irises were shaking out their formalwear, taking over from daffodils and narcissi.

After admiring the ducks and enormous carp that reside in and upon the waters of the lake, we strolled around to visit the seals and sea lions. These share a large enclosure that includes windows for viewing underwater activity, and a large comfortable deck above.

Jim had brought his camera. While he stayed in the shadowed area below, trying for the perfect underwater shot, I went up. Three sea lions and a seal (harbor, I think) were sprawled in the warm sun. I agreed with their choice of activity and we spent some companionable time together.

When Jim rejoined me (and had photographed the bathing beauties), we ambled around to the “Africa” section. We admired a pair of red river hogs in the last of the sun. The clouds came up again as we entered “Africa,” but this proved to be to our advantage since many of the animals were active. We got our best look ever at the pack of five African wild dogs in one enclosure and the two hyenas in another.

We moved back toward the “Australia” section (the divisions as to where animals are kept are not quite that precise, but the themes do make for good decorating and displays of habitat information). That’s where we stopped to chat with the lorikeets. These two were sharing an enclosure with a very somber kookaburra and seemed to want to make up for his standoffishness. They flew right up to the mesh in front of us, chirping very conversationally.

A few minutes later, when a yellow-crested cockatiel very softly said “Hi,” we felt very welcome. This sensation was not in the least diminished when we joined the parakeets in their free-flight enclosure. The koalas were their usual sleepy selves, and the new wallabies looked as if they were still adjusting to their new quarters.

I could go on, animal by animal, but I’ll try and hit the high points. I’m never sure what’s more fun – the new arrivals or seeing old friends looking sleek and healthy. Up on the “Catwalk” we had a chance for both.

The three mountain lions were heaped up right next to their viewing window looking – as we heard more than one person exclaim – “just like our cats at home!” The snow leopards, jaguars, and leopards were relaxed and haughty. The lions were less than dignified as they sprawled on their backs, soaking up every ounce of the pale and intermittent spring sunlight. Many of the smaller cats – ocelots, bobcats, and the like – were enjoying hammocks.

A new addition to the Catwalk was a binturong or “bear cat” – an Asian animal that really did look like the love child of an amorous bear and a very brave cat. Long-bodied, with shaggy brown-into-black fur, this lady seemed as interested in her viewers as they were in her.

The Mexican wolves were either off-display or taking advantage of their dens under the fallen cottonwood tree, but elsewhere we saw giraffes, zebras, ostriches, and many, many more animals than I can possibly list here, including some free-ranging peacocks who very clearly thought they owned the place.

We finished by walking out to where we could see Daisy, the baby elephant, and her mother, Rose. To keep this young creature from being overwhelmed by her admirers, the zoo staff has Daisy on display only a limited time each day. Her enclosure is separated from human contact by the tracks of the (very quiet) zoo rail system.

We had a great view from the train platform. I’m not usually much for elephants, but Daisy was so clearly enjoying herself as she threaded between the tree-truck legs of her mother and another elephant that we stood watching them all for quite a long while. I think I’ve been converted!

About a quarter of an hour before closing, Jim and I wandered out to our car, a bit footsore but very content. I want to go back to the zoo again before too much time goes by. Daisy will be a little bigger, and I’m pretty sure at least one zebra was pregnant. There’s so much to see and, as with anything alive, the view keeps changing.

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10 Responses to “Smiles and Sass”

  1. Ann M Nalley Says:

    I love our National Zoo here in Washington, DC. I am looking forward to my son Christopher’s class trip to the National Zoo at the end of May. He and I have made the trip there regularly (at least three times a year) since he was three, and the animals feel like friends. Great post!

  2. jenna Says:

    It’s always nice to hear about people enjoying their trip to the zoo. I am a zookeeper and all too often the only things I hear from people are about how animals weren’t out or other complaints. This was a lovely post to read and I hope that you continue to enjoy your zoo visits. If you ever happen to come across a keeper don’t hesitate to talk to them. We appreciate hearing nice things about our zoo. Also, most of us love to brag about our animals so you might get treated to some fun stories or if you are really lucky, a tour.

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    Here in Wellington we’ve got a wild life reserve with a pest proof fence surrounding it. Inside the fence is a flourishing colony of New Zealand native birds, lizards and insects — we have no native mammals apart from a single species of bat.

    The reserve is just bush, with paths through it. The creatures are not captive, they are not in cages, so it’s pure luck whether you see anything on your visit. The guidebook admonishes you to keep quiet and listen closely. Often the first intimation that something is sneaking up on you is a rustling in the bush, or a chirrup from up a tree. And if you pause and look carefully, you might just spot something looking back at you…

    Of course sometimes it’s easy.

    “Chirrup, chirrup, tweet tweet tweet,” sang something.

    We looked around eagerly, and a tui came crashing through the canopy, singing at the top of its voice. It made a bee-line for a nice looking tree and came in fast for a three point landing. It grabbed hold of the branch, and engaged full reverse thrust on all its engines to soak up the momentum. But I think its instruments must have been faulty because it fell off the branch and tumbled head over heels all the way down to the ground.

    And as it fell, it said: “SQUAWK!”, and we all knew exactly what it was saying. Some words are part of a universal language.

    It landed with a thump and struggled to its feet. It seemed a bit dazed. It shook itself, looked a little embarrassed and preened all its feathers very thoroughly. Then it said: “I meant to do that, you know. It was all done on purpose.”

    It flew back up into the tree and settled down on a better branch.

    It is quite obvious to me that tuis are descended from cats, and they still retain much of their feline nature. I do so enjoy seeing evidence of evolution in action.

    If you ever come to New Zealand, you really must visit the Karori Reserve.

  4. Tori Says:

    I will have to go see the baby elephant! They’re such cool animals – I wish we knew more about their intelligence.

    Certain things you mentioned in this post reminded me about the displacement I felt in Australia due to the fauna. There was an exhibit full of entirely ordinary deer (the sort we dodge on mountain roads) at the Adelaide Zoo. To contrast that, I was regularly annoyed by “exotic” birds around the college campus, and once a whole flock of those big yellow-crested cockatoos landed in the park I was taking a bike ride through. White swans were in the zoo and regal black ones floated on the stream through town.

    I like the Albuquerque Biopark a lot! I think they have a really high quality facility despite not being huge and a popular tourist destination like some other zoos around the country.

  5. janelindskold Says:

    Great comments…

    Alan, thanks for the recommendation. If we ever make it to your side of the world, I’d love to go there.

    Jenna, I’m sorry people at your zoo grouse so much. That’s unfair. One of the things Jim and I were discussing while we walked around was how pleased we were that zoos now served the animals as much or more as the humans.

    And the kids from the various school groups seemed to delight in playing “find the animals.” I think its a better experience for everyone.

  6. beth Says:

    My son was born near San Francisco, at about the same time a gorilla in their zoo had a baby. So we’d go regularly to see his age-mate, which made things even more fun. My second son was about the same age as a baby at the Oakland zoo, but the parallels were not quite so extreme. Both were born big, though. I had a lot of sympathy for the elephant mama.

  7. Debbie Says:

    I plan on making it to the zoo in the next month, now that the weather has warmed up. After reading your post, I can’t wait!

  8. Tom M. Says:

    Had to laugh at your descripton of the binturong- also reminded me of a quote from Veronica Mars, where a teen-age character describes a rare breed of Leopard dog as looking like “A drunk Dingo had a three-way with a porcupine and an Ocelot”. More critters on this Earth then we know…

  9. janelindskold Says:

    I loved the idea of Beth’s son having an age-mate at the zoo. It’s neat to feel a particular tie to an animal.

    One year, I took Jim to the zoo for his birthday and we witnessed the birth of the calf of one of the types of African cattle. He always goes to look for that particular baby.

    Wherever you live, if there’s a zoo near, it’s worth supporting!

  10. Hilary Says:

    Now I want to go to the Zoo. I’ll have to cook up an excursion!

    This entry reminded me of a time I went and I saw an alligator scratch itself with a hind leg like a dog and a big snake of some sort yawning wide enough that I had a close look at the inner workings of its mouth. Of course, now that I have Ichigo, snake yawns aren’t quite so rare a sight for me. 😛

    And once when I went,t he Mexican Wolves were incredibly active. I think they were about to get fed, so they were running back and forth and nipping at each other. You could definitely tell who was dominant and who wasn’t.

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