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Posts tagged ‘Zoos’

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.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“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

Photo Adventures with Dad

I cannot say that my dad was a stereotypical father, doing the things that you might see in commercials or on television shows.  He did not read me bedtime stories, play board games, or tuck me in at night.  He did not teach me to throw a baseball or take me for walks.  He did not help me with my homework or talk to me about boys or dating or growing up.  He did take me out driving once when I had my learner’s permit, but the main instruction had been from the required class offered by the high school.  No, I cannot say my dad is typical.

My memories of him when I was a kid are minimal.  Basically, he worked, a lot, so he was not home that much.  But I do have great recollections of watching TV with him in the evenings, as he would unwind from the day.  Somehow, the Lady Thunderbirds (a women’s roller derby team) and favorite wrestlers such as Gorgeous George were more exciting to watch when I could cheer them on along with Dad. On weekends, I could help him mix the sugary liquid that would fill the hummingbird feeders hanging in the backyard.  My job was to keep an eye out for the little birds, calling out when they were in sight.  Along with Mom, we would also feed the birds and squirrels that visited the back yard, loving it if they stayed around long enough to watch them in action.

I have always liked Christmas!  One reason was that from a young age—maybe 6 or 7—I was able to travel with Dad to lot after lot, in search of the perfect Christmas tree.  We did not really talk strategy, but we knew a good tree when we saw it.  And, indeed, when he would carefully place the lights on the tree before we all pitched in to help with the ornaments and icicles, the tree looked glorious.  The first year I was an adult living away from home for the holidays, I could feel Dad with me as I selected the perfect tree, all on my own. 

But our best adventures by far came when we would take off together on some Nature Photography Expeditions.  I had received a Brownie camera as a gift when I was in the sixth grade, and since then always dabbled in taking pictures to capture whatever event was unfolding.  Dad, too, enjoyed photography and spent some of his time taking photographs for church directories, an occasional wedding, and some high school year books.  But it was the nature photos of flowers and birds and squirrels and deer that fascinated us both.  After I moved out on my own, we would make plans to go somewhere together to take pictures. 

We did not have to go far, although some of our trips did keep us out overnight.  Often it was just the two of us, but—when possible—Mom would join the expedition.  We had fun, even as we trudged around in the heat, always seemed to have to walk up hill to get back to the car, or commiserated over the birds that often proved too illusive for our efforts.  Back then, before digital cameras, we would eagerly wait to get our photos back, so we could admire each other’s great shots and relive the adventure.

This Father’s Day, Dad is in a Rehab Center, waiting for antibiotics to do their job and eradicate a bad infection. He is frustrated about not being able to go home.  I am hoping that the memories of our photo expeditions might help him remember the lessons we learned over the years, together:

  1. If you want to capture the best photos, you often have to put up with heat, dust, and pesky little bugs.
  2. No matter what path you take, you will probably be trudging uphill, but at the end of the day—you get some great shots and make it home.
  3. Patience is one of the best skills of a good photographer—the light will change, the butterfly or bird will stand still eventually, the wind will die down, and we’ll always get home at the end of a good day.
  4. Enjoying memories and photos long after the shared expedition is an added bonus we can always treasure, even if we cannot go walking as far as we used to, to get the photo.

These lessons hold true, no matter where we wandered:  whale watching around Anacapa Island, trekking to the Salton Sea or through the Red Canyon, driving through the Petrified Forest, visiting Yosemite in the winter, or capturing birds and squirrels in action in the back yard.  The photos below showcase some of the photos/memories we shared over the years.  Dad, I hope they help keep your spirits up as you work to get better and back home. Even though neither of us walks so well anymore, let’s think about planning another expedition, okay?

We took many trips to the Los Angeles County Arboretum (Arcadia, CA).  The rose garden is delightful, the peacocks often put on a show, and orchids are in bloom once a year!

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve (Lancaster, CA) is about an hour away from    home, but it transports visitors back in time to a less hectic, less populated world.  In a good year, the hills are truly alive with color—mostly California Poppies, but also Cream Cups and Lupine and maybe some other blossoms clinging to the hills. 

We made one trip to Mono Lake, near Lee Vining, California, stayed for the sunset and then waited and waited and waited for the moonrise.  We were not prepared for it to be so many hours later, so we headed back to the car in the dark—wondering if we would ever get there. We did, by the way, but it took quite some time. 

We have enjoyed many zoos together.  I’m pretty sure it was Dad who stayed with me for hours to watch the baby elephant at the Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago) when I was a kid.  But as adults, we have also visited zoos in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Fresno.  Capturing shots where the animals do not look closed in and confined is always the goal. 


Monterey, California, is also a terrific destination.  One time, we took a Wildflower Tour hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  On that trip, we toured through the Carmel Valley, finding some wild flowers as well as a lovely little oak grove.  A gourmet lunch was served on china with linen table cloths and napkins over picnic tables nestled under a small grove of redwoods.  Later we drove down the Big Sur Coastline.  On another trip, we stopped and waited and waited and waited to see the butterflies in the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, Pacific Grove, California. 

Dad, get better so we can plan another trip!  Happy Father’s Day!

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