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Posts tagged ‘animals’

Topic Z: A Day at the ZOO

Some Opening Comments: antelopeI know that not everyone is enamored of zoos.  In fact, the very existence and actual operation of zoos is frequently criticized. In many ways, I agree with the complaints.  Ideally, wild animals would stay in the wild.  But, unfortunately, many animals are now endangered. Habitats are routinely diminished by encroaching farm lands and road construction, and some animals are being plundered by hunters and smugglers.  Some preservation efforts are underway, such as creating nature preserves to protect the animals in their native environments, but there are no guarantees about their success.  I would love to be able to visit such places to see animals in the wild, but such travel is not likely for me (and many others)*. 

Thus zoos have become a way to showcase wild animals while also learning about them in order to help preserve those at the zoo as well as in the wild.  Unfortunately, over the years, not all zoos have been run as humanely as they should be.  I remember once years and years ago visiting a zoo where the big cats were confined in small indoor cages, where all they could do was pace—it was a sad disheartening experience.  Many complain that the lack of space and natural habitats available via zoos is unfair to the animals, so limiting in fact that reproduction is not even possible.  This latter complaint is especially raised regarding elephants.  Other complaints look to the mistreatment of the animals behind closed doors when they are not in front of the crowds, whether having to perform or not.  These concerns are compounded when “zoos” are small or privately owned, where the animals are often seen as being exploited to simply make a buck.

betty white bookFortunately, more and more zoos are providing open spaces and natural habitats as the norm when animal exhibits are being constructed.  And more and more organizations and individuals are committed to monitoring and improving the overall living conditions for the animals.  These public zoological gardens and aquariums have been in existence since roughly 1870.  In 2013, there were 223 North American zoos accredited through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.   As Betty White explains in her book Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo (2011), “Increasingly, the good zoos find themselves taking on the role of ‘protectors’—or better yet ‘conservers’—rather than merely ‘collectors’ of wildlife.” 

Given this broader context, even though I understand the problems associated with the confinement and treatment of animals, I share Betty White’s appreciation for “the positive changes that have taken place in the whole zoo community over the past few decades, and the critical role they play today in perpetuating endangered species.”  


Dad taking photoselephant walkingEven though I understand the problems and controversy surrounding the operation of zoos, I love visiting them.  A day at the zoo is always great, even in the rain.  Over the years, I have spent many fun days with my dad wandering various zoos to capture pictures of the animals or visiting special exhibits with family and friends.  

Zoo i n the rain

pandaSome exhibits stand out:  I visited the Panda Exhibit at the San Diego Zoo and saw Ruby, the painting elephant, at the Phoenix Zoo.  Although it closed in 1987 (bought by Sea World), Marineland of the Pacific on Palos Verdes Peninsula, California, was a great place to get up close and personal with sea life.  A visit to Wolf Haven International in Tenino, Washington, provided some glimpses of wolves but also included evening stories around a campfire culminating with some howling from the wolves on site.  Terrific!  


wolf sleeping

wolf 2

mba bird 4For years I was a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  The aviary there lets visitors see shore birds up close.  But you can also interact with starfish and sting rays and catch some great views of sea otters, both in an indoor exhibit as well as outside in the bay.  One year (1992) there was a great jellyfish exhibit too, and another year Dad and I enjoyed a catered outing to see local wildflowers.  I love the Monterey Bay Aquarium!  

mba bird 1

mba bird 2

mba bird 3

otter swimming

otter close

Exhibit Program Cover

Exhibit Program Cover

feeding llama 2feeding llamaOver the years, I also have fond memories of the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch in Texas.  There, animals were viewed from the car as we drove through the park—and even fed some animals—llamas, zebras and ostriches—through the car windows.  I especially liked seeing the Rhea and its baby following behind and the start of a Crested Crane’s courtship dance.  

feeding zebra



crested crane dance 1

mc elephantmc parrotFor about ten years, I worked at Moorpark College, a mid-sized two-year college within the California Community College System.  It is the only community college in the country that offers an onsite teaching zoo**, where students learn to care for and train animals in preparation for jobs at zoos and preserves as well as in the entertainment and conservation industries.  The Exotic Animal Training and Management Program (EATM)—affectionately dubbed America’s Teaching Zoo—operates an on-campus zoo that covers more than 9 acres.  An elephant would occasionally visit the campus, but one never lived permanently as the zoo.  There were plenty of other animals, however, from birds of prey to sea lions and from wolves to tigers.   mc camel

barn owl

mc lion in officeA documentary was made, showing the hard work and dedication involved with participating in this impressive program.  This unique EATM program offered many challenges and surprises for everyone on campus.  For example, Moorpark College was undoubtedly the only campus where the President would be called by a community member and asked to keep the students from walking the Water Buffalo in the neighborhood park.  Or where the sun rose to the bellowing whoo-whoo-whooping of some very vocal Gibbons.  Also, once the aged lion—a long-time mascot for the zoo—died, a new lion cub was donated from a sanctioned breeding program.  It was great getting to welcome this new little guy to campus!  

mc lion cub


donotSpecial exhibits and specific memories are great.  Technology even makes it possible to view some animal exhibits without ever leaving home.  For example, some days I watch the Elephant Cam from the San Diego Zoo and see elephants in real time, including the two youngest–both under 4 years old. But the best days at the zoo are still ordinary typical days, when you can wander leisurely from exhibit to exhibit, seeing a wide range of animals.

Each day will be a bit different from the next depending on what zoo you are visiting, what special exhibits are open, and even the mood of you and the animals.  But if you pause to really watch a minute, to try to communicate and understand, to appreciate what you see, any walk through the zoo is bound to be a glorious adventure.  Of course, you better make sure you show care and respect to the animals!

The following photos are pulled from trips to various zoos including The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Chaffee Zoo (Fresno, CA), Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle, WA), Arizona-Sonora Desert (Living) Museum (Tucson, AZ), and the San Diego Zoo.  Let’s get started!

lion yawnLions & Tigers & Bears, oh my! lion nap

lions two

tiger walking

tiger face

bear side view

polar bear walking

bear grizzly

chimpanzeeorangutanChimps, Orangutans, and Gorillas

gorilla relaxing

gorilla mom and baby

gorilla standing

Flamingos & Other Birds

flamingo loneflamingo standing

flamingo flock

crested crane in aviary

night heron

rosette spoonbill

giraffe facecamel close upA Range of Animals that Run, Swim & Fly

turtles on log



bats 2

Bat rosalie

killer whale 1killer whales twoSome Sea Life

sea turtle



hippos and duckshippo surfacingHippos & Rhinos

hippos two

rhino face

rhinos two

lynxcoyoteSome Desert Dwellers

big horn sheep

elephant closeThere Must Always Be a Visit with the Elephants!

elephants mom and baby

If you have not visited a zoo in awhile, take Paul Simon’s advice and see “what’s happening at the zoo”!  (Just don’t believe his assessment of elephants.)   

 What zoos have you visited?

Do you have favorite animals you always visit?

elephants four

*It would not be the same as seeing animals in the wild, but you can visit a great blog–de Wets Wild–to see photographers of animals in the wilds of South Africa.
**The other college in the States that offers animal management training works with dolphins and such, so it brings the students to the ocean; that campus does not have a zoo on its own campus.

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“The quizzical expression of the monkey at the zoo comes from his wondering whether he is his brother’s keeper or his keeper’s brother.”   Evan Esar

“Zoo:  An excellent place to study the habits of human beings.”  Evan Esar

“I am personally not against keeping animals at zoos, as they serve a huge educational purpose, but treating them well and with respect seems the least we could do, and with ‘we’ I mean not just zoo staff, but most certainly also the public.”  Frans de Waal

“Zoo animals are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild.”   Jack Hanna

“Zoos are becoming facsimiles—or perhaps caricatures—of how animals once were in their natural habitat.  If the right policies toward nature were pursued, we would need no zoos at all.”   Michael J. Fox

“It could be said now that all animals live in zoos, whether it is a zoo in Regent’s Park, London or a Nigerian Game Reserve. Perhaps what’s left to argue is only the zoo’s quality.”    Peter Greenaway

“All zoos, even the most enlightened, are built upon the idea both beguiling and repellent—the notion that we can seek out the wildness of the world and behold its beauty, but that we must first contain that wildness. Zoos argue that they are fighting for the conservation of the Earth, that they educate the public and provide refuge and support for vanishing species. And they are right. Animal-rights groups argue that zoos traffic in living creatures, exploiting them for financial gain and amusement. And they are right. Caught inside this contradiction are the animals themselves, and the humans charged with their well-being.”    Thomas French, Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives

“In zoos, along with the animals, the humanity of man is also prisoned! No cage is humane!”    Mehmet Murat ildan “The zoo kills the ‘wild’ in wild animal.”   Mokokoma Mokhonoana

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”   Mahatma Gandhi

If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man.  All things are connected.”  Chief Seattle, Suwamish Tribe

“Only animals were not expelled from Paradise.”   Milan Kundera

“If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first art of abstinence is from injury to animals.”  Leo Tolstoy

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”  Immanuel Kant

“Man is the only animal who blushes—or needs to.”   Mark Twain

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”   Anatole France

Amazing Facts about Animals & Birds

I like animals of all kinds.  I like learning new things.  When someone says they have information that could be categorized as weird, strange or odd, I tend to think fun, fascinating or incredible.  Not surprisingly, I loved stumbling onto a website that presents lists of amazing and strange facts about birds and animals.  What was more surprising was that I knew many, many  facts already. Since the facts I collected into my own list amazed and amused me, I thought I would share.

A MOLE can dig a tunnel 300 feet long in just one night! That’s roughly the length of a football field.  BTW:  A mole is about 6 inches long.

PORCUPINES float in water.

squirrelI am most used to seeing SQUIRRELS running on the ground or along a tree branch.  In reality, squirrels can jump a distance up to 20 feet because of their long muscular hind legs and shorter front legs.  If they somehow miss on the jump, they can fall 100 feet without getting hurt because their bushy tails offer balance and act like a parachute.

A HEDGEHOG’S heart beats 300 times a minute on average!

A CROCODILE always grows new teeth to replace the old teeth. But it still cannot stick its tongue out.

ELEPHANTS are the only animals that can’t jump.  Of course, I cannot imagine why they would want to, especially since they can have so much fun just running and frolicking in the waves.

AMERICAN BUFFALO weigh about 50 pounds when they are born but grow to weigh between 1,000 pounds (females) and 2,000 pounds (males).  Both males and females have horns and stand roughly six feet tall. Although in common usage, the terms buffalo and bison are interchangeable, in exact biological terms American Buffalo are really Bison.  Ooops.  Let’s hope the Senate does not hear about this as they may waste time renaming the “Buffalo Nickle.”


flamingo baby & momFLAMINGOS are large beautiful pink birds.  The deep rich color comes from their diet.  When first born, the chicks are fluffy and dark gray for many months.  They keep the dark gray color longer than they keep the small straight bills they are born with.  Within a few months, the bills develop the curve that is characteristic of adult flamingos. These gorgeous birds flock together in huge numbers.  When they fly as a group, they can reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour.  But they most often stay on the ground in large flocks called a flamboyance. How appropriate!  BTW: Pink plastic lawn flamingos were developed by Don Featherstone of Massachusetts and have been gracing lawns since 1957.

a flamboyance of flamingos

The POISON-ARROW FROG has enough poison to kill about 2,200 people.

A SNAIL can sleep for three years.

The world’s TERMITES outweigh the world’s humans 10 to 1.

gorillaface frontKoko is the name of the gorilla that learned sign language and helped teach some signs to a few other gorillas.  Most GORILLAS communicate through grunts, coughs, hoots, facial expressions, body gestures, and posturing.  Makes sense that they are seen as close relatives to humans.  Each gorilla also has unique fingerprints just like humans.  But humans do not have unique nose prints as gorillas do.

CAMELS have three eyelids to protect themselves from blowing sand! They also are known to spit quite far—and with decent accuracy. 

BEARS are remarkable creatures. They often appear cuddly but in reality can be quite fierce. Some have huge front claws that can be almost five inches long.  They have been known to eat almost anything from nuts and berries to snowmobile seats, engine oil, and rubber boots.  A bear’s normal heartbeat is about 40 beats per minute.  A hibernating bear’s heart rate drops to only 8 beats per minute.  There is no record how many beats a minute are produced when a bear is just napping.

bear nap

canda gooseA group of GEESE on the ground is a gaggle; a group of geese in the air is a skein. But a goose by itself is still just a goose or maybe a lone duck. 

barn owlBARN OWLS share many traits with all the other owls in the world.  Unlike other owls, however, barn owls do not hoot; instead their sound can be best described as a hiss or a snort.  Barn owls also have the ability to locate their prey by sound alone.  Their ears are positioned in such a way—one higher than the other—that the sounds can actually pinpoint an exact ground level location. Their heart-shaped facial disc works like a radar disc and helps reflect sounds to the ears.  They are also very pretty!

I love seeing BROWN PELICANS as they fly overhead or sit on a post by the seashore.  Their most daring feat, however, is when they dive 20 to 30 feet into the water to scoop fish into their pouch.  The air sacs placed under the front of their bodies offer Brown Pelicans protection against the force of hitting the water’s surface from such a height. Their webbed pouch expands to hold the captured fish and up to three gallons of water.  Once the water is drained out, they eat the fish in one gulp.

OSTRICHES are large powerful birds than can run really fast (30 mph extended and 45 mph sprint) and have a powerful kick (2,000 pounds per square inch, more than twice an elite boxer’s kick, enough to kill a man or a lion).  An ostrich egg can weigh up to 3 pounds—that’s equivalent to about 24 chicken eggs.  It is reported that sometimes when an ostrich with young meets another ostrich with young, the parents fight.  The winner takes all the offspring.  That’s quite a play date!


ostrich at carOnce, when visiting a drive-thru wildlife park that lets visitors feed the animals from the car, I ended up with an ostrich beak in my face, peeking around looking for the bucket of food.  They are fast—this one bolted its head into the car before I could get the window rolled up.  My nephews laughed a lot, but I did not think it was very funny.  That ostrich kept watching us skeptically from that moment on—even though it had all our food.  (I threw the bucket out the window!)

On average, people fear SPIDERS more than they do death. But spiders actually serve a great service by eating other insects.  Since there are close to 50,000 species of spiders, just think how many creepy crawling things would be in our fields and streets and homes if spiders were not there to eat them. Also, you are more likely to be killed by a champagne cork than by a POISONOUS SPIDER.  Thank goodness champagne is more likely to be found at a party than a poisonous spider.

dolphin helloDOLPHINS see through their ears using echo-location.  This sonar function is far superior to the bat’s sonar or human-made sonar devices.  With its sonar, dolphins can distinguish between types of fish and size differences as little as a quarter inch.  They are also social animals that frequently interact with humans in the wild, often with the dolphin helping the humans.  Dolphins are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet.  Scientists measure intelligence by the number of folds evident on a brain.  Dolphin brains are even more folded and convoluted than humans.

Dolphins have also learned to understand as many as 60 words, which can be used in up to 2000 sentences.  As Carl Sagan says, “It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English – up to fifty words used in correct context – no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.”

A HIPPO can open its mouth wide enough to fit a 4 foot tall child inside! But I am not going to ask it to demonstrate. 

hummingbidA HUMMINGBIRD weighs less than a penny!

gullsI was first introduced to LAUGHING GULLS when I lived in South Texas.  Their calls do indeed sound like hysterical laughter.  No one could ever quite figure out what they were laughing at.  Personally, I think it has something to do with them observing humans all day at the beach and around town.

summer beach scene

Nose prints are used to identify DOGS, just like humans use fingerprints! But most times you do not have to check for nose prints to know whose smudges are on the window.

dog nose smudge

That’s my list.  What trivia tidbits about animals can you share? 

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We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals. Immanuel Kant

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. Anatole France

In order to keep a true perspective of one’s importance, everyone should have a dog that will worship him and a cat that will ignore him.  Dereke Bruce

I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.Abraham Lincoln

Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.Albert Schweitzer

If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.  James Herriot

The animals of the planet are in desperate peril. Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen.  Alice Walker

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.  John Muir

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.     Chief Seattle

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.  Mahatma Ghandi

Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.  Albert Einstein

I don’t believe in the concept of hell, but if I did I would think of it as filled with people who were cruel to animals.  Gary Larson

Man is the only Animal that blushes. Or needs to.  Mark Twain

Elephant Facts

I was about 4 years old when I went to the zoo and saw elephants for the first time. I loved them immediately. I liked their size, their gentle manner, their ability to squirt water from their trunks. Back then, I did not know they were known for wisdom, memory and intelligence or that their uplifted trunks represented good luck. I did not know that they were social creatures who exhibited such cooperative group behaviors as babysitting and grieving. I do know those things now—which is probably why I am still fascinated by these gentle giants. Plus the fact that I met Nellie a few years ago; she’s a movie star elephant who lives in the Lancaster Hills.

In explaining my wonder of elephants to a friend, I was surprised by all the facts I have actually learned about these impressive animals:

• The elephant is the largest land animal, with the typical male standing 10-13 feet high and weighing close to 7,000 pounds.
• There are two basic types of elephants—African and Asian/Indian—but there are sub-types within each group depending on where they live (forest, savanna, etc.).
• The average elephant lives to between 50 and 70 years.
• Elephants are born after a 22-month gestation period, standing at birth at about 2.5 feet tall and weighing in at roughly 250 pounds.
• Elephants eat between 300 and 600 pounds of food a day, over a 16-hour period.
• Elephants travel at two speeds walk and fast-almost-a-run walk; typical speed has been estimated at about 5 mph, but the highest recorded speed was 25 mph.
• Elephants communicate verbally through loud trumpeting as well as low deep rumbles that can be measured at the sub-sonic level. The low rumbles can carry for miles and when recorded register at 117 dB.*
• An elephant named Ruby lives at the Phoenix Zoo and loves to paint—deliberately selecting the colors and textures she wishes to use on the canvas.

See? They really are impressive beasts. Too bad their only known predator—besides an occasional lion culling out the young or very old—is Man. The wild population is dwindling everyday through human encroachment such as loss of habitat and direct poaching. We really need to care for these gentle giants. The world would be a sadder place without them.

*For comparison, a library whisper registers at 30 dBs, a roaring motorcycle at 100 dBs, sand blasting or a loud concert at 115 dBs, and a jet engine at 140 dBs.

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