Wednesday, September 1, 2010

giraffes & hippo whiskers

I was moved to tears by giraffes on Saturday.

You should know that I loved animals when I was a kid, and even thought I was destined to be a veterinarian.  This career choice changed when I realized I wouldn't just be able to play with animals all day, I'd have to give them shots, too, and cut them open.  So, I volunteered at the local animal shelter instead and brought strays home as pets.  I even rescued a crow from being eaten by the neighbor cat once, and remember the day when a homeless Calico had kittens on our front porch.

As I've gotten older, I find that I still have a fondness for two and four-legged critters, but my want to keep them for my own has waned.

My desire to visit the zoo had also changed over time.  I think I resolved that once you've seen caged animals enough times, they cease to be engaging.  This is the same feeling I have about Disneyland.  My husband and I used to live 20 minutes away from The Happiest Place on Earth and lost interest after a few visits.  However, I find that I am far more excited about going to the zoo and theme parks when I have children holding my hands, sharing their enthusiasm with me.  I never grow tired of seeing their eyes light up and hearing their animated voices when they discover something for the first (or second or third) time.

Last weekend my perspective changed.  The part about kids is still accurate, but the other part?  Well, thanks to our friend (and zookeeper extraordinaire), Alisa Sandor, and her backstage tour of the Cleveland Zoo, my dream of interacting with wild animals came true and I fell in love with them again.

Our first houseguests, the Jenkins family (visiting from CA), stayed a few days with us, which prompted the zoo visit.  In addition to being a zookeeper, Alisa is a rhino expert.  Alisa liked updating us on the progress of one of her rhino's pregnancies and, when we found out the birth came only two weeks before our friends arrived, we arranged to have her give us a private viewing.  Not only did she introduce us to Inge and the baby rhino, she introduced us to giraffes, monkeys, a leopard who gave high-fives, and an old hippo named Blackie.

The moment I became emotional was when we walked out to the area where the giraffes were.  It was as if they knew we were coming.  They all gathered together and greeted us with big blinking eyes and a serenity I never expected.  A feeling I can't articulate came over me and my eyes filled up with tears.  The giraffes were majestic in how they towered above us and leaned in when we held out our hands to feed them.  Their hot breath on my face reminded me of when horses exhale.

Two other highlights of our tour: feeding the hippo and feeling his chin (a blubbery old man hippo chin with old man hippo whiskers) and, of course, seeing the baby rhino.   We gathered alongside the pen where mom and the little girl were and watched as they both got up to check us out.  Inge was cautious and kept a watchful eye on her baby as she frolicked in the room.  We observed the 150-pound cutie (with Shrek ears) drink its mama's milk while we touched the back of the mom at the same time.  As an esthetician, the first thought I had was how badly the animal needed an exfoliation.  I know that rhino hide is naturally thick and callous, it was just more callous than any skin I had ever felt before.

Our viewing was top secret, as the public hadn't yet been informed of the baby's arrival, but today you can go to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo website or Cleveland's Plain Dealer for videos featuring the new rhino and Alisa.

While I greatly respect the nature of the beasts we communed with, I couldn't help but imagine what life must have been like for Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, and how docile the animal ancestors were (they were at one time, right?).

I would love to sit on the back of a zebra, water fight with penguins, play Tag with a meerkat, use a hippo as a flotation device, and dance with an orangutan.

How about you?

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