While we had all four boys within reach we spent the day in San Antonio. We spent most of our day at the Zoo, then afterwards we wandered the riverwalk for a little while. They wanted to do some “shopping” at the river walk. After visiting one store they checked that item off their list and were ready to go home. I happen to know when Kira is old enough to participate in a shopping trip she and I will not tolerate the brevity of the boy’s endurance for retail browsing. It’s been entirely too long since we’ve been to the zoo so the boys were sentimental as they reminisced about their memories of being at the zoo together as little boys. I’ve seen them excited to see animals at all stages of their lives and for this trip, though they are older, it had the same marvelous effect upon them, in fact, the animals pried out the little boys from their big tough guy exteriors. I have to believe seeing exotic animals has that effect on everyone regardless of age.
In October 2009, while I was in Uganda for a mission trip with church, we took a safari trip and a Nile River cruise to see the animals of Africa. I’ve been a lover of the zoo all my life but it wasn’t until I was watching the same animals roam free in their natural habitat that I felt a deep sorrow for those who are held in captivity for our entertainment. The experience of seeing the African plains for as far as the eye can roam altered my understanding of wildlife. They are not individual animals with interesting characteristics, they are a part of a whole system. They are best left where they are. I felt selfish for my zoo stalking pleasures. Then I remembered if we didn’t have zoos how would we ever appreciate the diversity of animals God has created. I remain conflicted.
The Africa exhibit at the San Antonio zoo is fantastic. There is a human nose to wild beast glass wall where two hippos swim in the water that touches the glass. It was so interesting to have the perspective of a hippo underwater. Unfortunately for our visit the hippos big ugly butts were pressed up to the glass. I declined to photograph that. Next time I go back I’ll hope for an eyeball encounter with the hippos. I explained to Kevin and Jack we will take a Nile River cruise in Uganda very soon where we will see hundreds of hippos lining the shore. Their silent and stillness mask their extremely dangerous aggression. Last year we did see two hippos have a fight. We got away from there fast. The boys were in awe to imagine they will see these same animals in the wild. For me, as their mother, I count it a great and humbling honor to be able to give them that experience. They too will have their zoo experiences forever changed.
Seeing elephants appear from behind trees sends chills all over me. I can close my eyes now and see it as if I were there, and again the trickle of goose-flesh spreads through me. The baby explored actively and played vigorously shaking ears and tossing the trunk up into the air. The mama elephant continued to corral the baby back into the center of the group. It was mesmerizing.
The photo above is from the San Antonio Zoo, and I must thank this bird for stepping into the perfect light in front of a lush tropical background so I could take a sharp photo of him. I am most obliged. But it couldn’t do what the same type of bird did in Uganda while we watched from our safari truck in this next photo….
My all time favorite wild animal is the giraffe. When I experience the giraffe I am attracted to it’s gentle nature, the awkwardness of it’s body proportions and yet the ability it has to walk gracefully. I adore the facial expression that seems to hold a joke no one else understands. It’s eyes are so wide and lined with luscious thick eyelashes that I have to hold back the urge to straddle its neck in a body hug and nuzzle its sweet face. We saw a hundred giraffe at once on safari. It’s a sight one never forgets. For some reason we either missed the giraffes at the zoo this trip, or it doesn’t keep any. I am not sure I could endure seeing one in captivity after what I saw in Africa. It might make me cry.
While we wandered the zoo my boys played a game where they determined which wild animal was most like each of their personalities. At first it was a creative way to compliment each other, highlighting favorable characteristics. As the day went on though and they began to get on each others nerves as the heat and stink rose around them they subtly used the game to cut and injure. That’s when I, the little five foot three mama, stood very tall over them and quashed their freedom to play mean. We determined Donny is like a hyena because it’s the noisiest animal we could think of and it’s a strong predator. Kevin said I am a leopard because it’s sleek and stylish- Nice! I’ll take that. Jordan is a wolf because they are quiet and social and the closest thing to the best friend of man. Kevin is a dolphin, the smartest mammal. Daddy is the lion. and Jack is a cheetah.
We left the zoo having the stirred up imaginations for taking a real African safari before 2010 ends. I went straight home and reread Yann Martel’s opening description in his book “Life of Pi” of life as a zoo keeper. “In many ways, running a zoo is a hotel keeper’s worst nightmare. Consider: the guests never leave their rooms; they expect not only lodging but full board; they receive a constant flow of visitors, some of whom are noisy and unruly. One has to wait until they can saunter to their balconies, so to speak, before one can clean their rooms, and then one has to wait until they tire of the view and return to their rooms before one can clean their balconies; and there is much cleaning to do, for the guests are as unhygienic as alcoholics.”