Good work, guys. :)
Speaking of those two...the three of us (Russ, me and Drew) got to go to the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson on Sunday before Russ and I left town! We were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour from one of Adam's roommates, Jed. It was amazing. When you go to a zoo, all you see is the animals in their habitats, minding their own business and maybe not seeming that happy. When you get to go on an exclusive tour of the Tucson Zoo and meet animals like Shaba the elephant, Denver and Texas the giraffes, DJ the mandrill, and Kobe the polar bear, you see the special relationship that the keepers form with the animals and what a great service zoos do for education, not to mention sustaining species of animals.
We got to feed the giraffes carrots! I tried to pet one of them, but I guess they don't like that very much. Their tongues are black instead of pink so they don't get sunburned! I heard somewhere a long time ago that a giraffe tongue can take the skin off of a human, but I don't think that's true, as I still have the skin on my hands.
I don't know if you know this about me, but I LOVE elephants. In March of 2009, Russ and I came to San Diego to visit the training center and make sure we wanted to move here, and on our trip, we got to see a two-day-old elephant at the San Diego's Zoo's Wild Animal Park. I am not even embarassed to say that I cried a little bit when I saw him. Up to this point in my life though, I haven't had (that I remember) a close encounter with one. So, when Jed's girlfriend Cassie took us into the elephant exhibit to meet Shaba, a huge female African elephant, I was beyond words. Cassie asked Java to lay down and stand back up, lift up each of her feet, wave her trunk at us, and fan out her ears, among other tricks and behaviors. We got some great pictures at that point, and came back later to touch the bottoms of her feet (she's ticklish!), her side, and her tail. SO COOL.
Drew likes monkeys, so we met DJ, a male mandrill. He was in the overnight room behind the exhibit when we met him; he smiled at us, gave us a little head bob (apparently a sign of dominance...), and we fed him peanuts through the door of his room! It was awesome to see his little fingers reach for the food through the cracks! He doesn't eat the peanut shells either, so it was even more impressive that he peeled them off and just got at the good stuff.
Russ's enthusiasm for bears might equal mine for elephants. He even made little black bear stencils to put on his discuses, and they are really cool. The last animal we visited on our tour was Kobe, a 700-pound female polar bear. She was waiting at a chain-link fence behind her exhibit for Alicia, her trainer, when we all walked up! We each got a turn standing next to her and asking her to perform her behaviors for us; "Kobe, tongue" for her to lick our fingers through the fence or, "Kobe, open" for her to open her mouth wide and show her scary teeth! Once she did what we asked her to, we got to feed her a cracker! To have your fingers that close to a polar bear's mouth is kind of intense. I was struck by the urge to try and reach through the fence and pet the bear's head, and this sentiment let me know that I should never be a polar bear trainer; I'd most likely lose my perspective on the reality that these animals are extremely powerful! Better safe than sorry!
If you ever have the chance to see how zookeepers and trainers interact with their animals first-hand, it would be a big mistake to pass it up. It was simply incredible!