Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Playdate With The Zoo

We're at the zoo, the Gladys Porter Zoo, in Brownsville, Texas, and we ohh, ahh, giggle and smile at all the babies.

It's sunny and cool, about 55 degrees. Which means nearly everyone mills about. Because they can. (Pics.) Because the normally oppressive Texas heat went somewhere else for a while. The wonderful weather invites the animals to get up and move, and it invites the animal mommas to bask in the sun with their babes.

We see a momma mandrill (like a baboon) tucked up against a viewing window, clutching her infant (I can see just the baby's ear).  A spider monkey lays on a grassy bank with her baby sprawled on her lap.  She picks at the baby's head. The baby reaches up with her long spindly arms and returns the favor.

Around the corner, another baby monkey romps with her siblings, until momma crashes the party and whisks her away, climbs a tall palm and hangs out on top. She glares down at me.

I walk on. Look back at her. She still looking at me. So I walk on, feeling a little intimidated, then foolish for feeling intimidated. 

I see a momma giraffe nuzzle her little one; and at the nursery, a lonely camel baby searches the crowd, probably looking for mom.

It's at the tiger's exhibit we see the most action.

There are no babies here, but the pen is full of big guys who play just like kittens, rolling, leaping, swatting, whacking each other with their hips. One lays in wait behind a big rock and attacks when his "brother" strolls by. Another dances on his hind legs, boxing something (or nothing) he sees (or imagines) in the air. 

We stand mesmerized by their kitty-like antics, a spell broken when a zoo worker heads behind the exhibit, we think to mop out the muck.

Immediately, the curious cats lunge toward a metal grate at the side of the pen, three, four at time, up to six of them jockeying for position at the gate. Feeding time? At 3 p.m.?

Outside, there's more action. Three electric cars pull up and the drivers leap off and run -- not walk -- inside the back of the den.

From inside, where the men are, I hear a growl, then a mournful wail.  From a cat. There's a tiger inside there with all those men.

A car, not an electric car, a real gas-driven car, pulls up on the walkway and stops. THREE men leap out and dash in. They all have walkie-talkies. They  look concerned.

What could it be? I hear the wail again. The cat is not happy.

Is a  baby being born? I wonder I wonder. Of course! I'm sure it's a baby. The zoo is full of babies today. How exciting. A baby!

One last electric car pulls up and the driver, a woman in full zoo uniform, parks and walks in.

We wait. And wait. So do the tigers outside, trading spaces to stare through the grate.

Then one by one, the men leave the den, like bees from a hive. The final person to leave is the woman. She's the one I approach. Because she's lingering, not flying away. 

"What's happened?" I ask expectantly.

Nothing exotic or exciting, she replies. 

The cat didn't eat breakfast; his handler freaked, panicked over the walkie-talkie, making it sound like death was imminent.

But all's well, the woman says. The cat'll eat when he's hungry. And no, no baby's on the way.

At least, not today.

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