So, my home town has a zoo. They just celebrated their 66th birthday, which puts the zoo here since (let me break out my calculator) 1950! It was not a very nice zoo, but in my early years I didn’t realize this. Now, however, it is a rather nice zoo, though it is small.
The alligator pit was very similar to this during my childhood in the 1980s. It was just a round cement hole with an elevated cement platform in the center with a ramp. Very little dark water and about ten to twelve alligators and numerous turtles shoved in there. As a young kid, I hadn’t experienced alligators in the wild, nor knew what they might live in, so this was fascinating to me. But, it was dismal living conditions for those alligators and turtles.
The other animals that the zoo had didn’t fare much better. There weren’t really any exhibits. Just slabs of cement with cages on them that the animals were shoved in to. But then most zoos in America were of this kind, as I came to find out in my later years, so my parents didn’t really think anything about the conditions either. Luckily people started changing zoo and making them better for the animals.
We had lions, a few elephants, a goat, a bear, and a baboon at some point. I really only remember one of the elephants, the alligators and the snake room. The snake room was pretty cool. They could have had better enclosures for them, but it was in a dark room, so you could see into their glass cases. A bit of spooky-fun, but also better than what they have now, since the glare off the windows makes everything extremely difficult to see.
But our zoo started becoming immensely better in the mid-late nineties. I read that the movement from the terrible cages above, to more habitat appropriate enclosures started happening in the mid-late seventies in other parts of the US. The south is slow. Obviously I’ll agree that we’re still slow on quite a few issues, but I think for the most part, that ten-year lag, so to speak, is behind us.
I remember what it was like growing up, the technology, the fashion, etc. Then looking back at what America as a whole was experiencing during the same time period, we were lagging far behind in technology and fashion, among other things. It was like the documentary I watched once; there were people in Eastern Europe who were still wearing mullets and acid wash jeans… in the year 2000. “Oh! OK, they’re basically Mississippi!”, I thought.
So, we’ll fast forward. The zoo was always free and was extremely small. They started slow with the upgrades. Their very first actual exhibit was for some type of monkey. It was later abandoned, though I don’t know why. It’s still there and well, there’s this.
It’s amusing and awesome… but I also don’t get it. Is it too much money to take down the enclosure? It’s not like it’s that large. Was this for April Fool’s Day and they just didn’t take it down? Unsure. I was here last year, my first time back in quite a few years. This exhibit was here, but no sign. I went with out-of-town friends the weekend after April Fool’s Day and this sign was up. It was still up the day of the Birthday Bash.
The second exhibit, that is still standing, was for Tigger the Siberian Tiger. She passed away two years ago and the zoo obtained the Tiger Twins; two boys, Kuasa and Cinta. They are Sumatran Tigers. They now live in Tiggers ginormous enclosure. It’s huge inside the exhibit, but is also two stories high, that one can climb the stairs to the top to see the tigers better. At some point over the last couple of years they’ve added tons of Tibetan Prayer Flags outside the exhibit. They’re just strewn around all through the bamboo. It’s really nice.
When they were first re-doing the zoo, they had two new sections. The first was Africa, then Asia. They did away with Asia sometime after Hurricane Katrina and gave us South America. Took us forever to find South America as there is this huge plaza between the tiger and the lemur exhibits, leading to the lake and a large food stand. You had to go to the food stand and hidden in the trees to the left was the entrance to South America.
But during the initial re-vamp they also gave us an alligator exhibit, in the back corner. It was extremely natural, but also I think they went to the opposite extreme of the cement pit. Yes, they want dark water and lots of it and lots of foliage… but there was no place for them to get out of the water and too much foliage so that there was very little sun, which is bad. It wasn’t there very long, and then they built a different exhibit for them. It’s a tad small, but much better. Swampy, but also some land for them to hang out on. Shade as well as sun.
I’m rather fond of alligators. Anytime they have them at a zoo or aquarium I will just stand and watch them for what feels like forever. They are native to my area. I have seen them in the wild, but never in Mississippi. I’ve been in boats and you’d see maybe one on land and a few heads in the water towards the shore. Once was during a trip to Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana (near the border of Mississippi) and the other was on a trip to Okefenokee swamp in southern Georgia.
Once, The Sister, my parents and my mother’s step brother went out on the water in southern Alabama. I wasn’t allowed to go, though don’t know why. However, I’m very glad that I didn’t go. For one, it was really hot. I don’t like the extreme heat, but alligators do, and the water was FULL of alligators. About fifty, and some so close to the boat that my family could have reached out and touched them. This is never how I ever want to encounter alligators. Ever. I love them and find them fascinating. I also don’t want them to be killed for boots and such, but I also don’t want to just happen upon them on land or in the water. Too scary. They are the least aggressive of any such creature like crocodiles and caimans, etc, but they are still not to be messed with.
My grandmother and aunt went to Thailand in the early nineties. They were on a teeny-tiny, long skinny boat that sat very low in the water… and they were surrounded by crocodiles. o_0 I don’t think I could have made it through those waters without flipping out. I probably could have, but I might just have had a massive coronary once we reached land again.
So, back to the exhibits. The first one had you walk up to the exhibit; as in here is a fence and some distance, but the water is level with your feet somewhat. This new one is a boardwalk above the lake and the alligator exhibit so you can look down on them. Last year they had a special feeding demonstration which was cool to watch.
And it’s important that I mention how small the zoo is. They’re on 3/4 of a city block, but are locked in by houses and a huge neighbourhood on the back, a large church on their left, a huge creek and park to the right (taking up 1/4 of that city block), and the main thoroughfare to the front. I don’t think that they can ever expand. Also there is a large man-made lake in the center, but I do think they have done really well.
So, a handler from the zoo brought a Great Horned Owl to the downtown farmer’s market last year. She was adorable (the owl, not the handler, she was weird), so of course I took her photo. This year while on one of the special behind the scenes exhibits I saw her again and was told that her name is Chicken. This might seem like a terribly horrible name for an owl, but I found it to be cute. Maybe perhaps because we nick-named one of our cats Chicken.
Last year, the zoo obtained two sloths, a boy and a girl; Chewy, or Chewbacca, and Molasses, or Mo, for short. Mo’s the girl. They received Chewy first, so they had a special event called Sloth Wars and you could meet and pet Chewy. I totally did, though I’m off to the left and not in this shot, as I’d already petted him. That’s The Sister touching him and then The Friend looking like a fabulous film or rock star.
We also found out that they had built Steampunk Ville, as I like to call it. It’s made to be like some mid-Victorian explorer found these animals and brought them back. So the first three windows are his living room or something, so there are glass cases full of sciency things and it’s a discovery center for kids. The next three windows are various aspects of his home? There’s a Red-tailed Boa in his closet, Chinchilla’s, and then the Sloths are in the last window in a bedroom? To the left is a huge open area with a very large Galapagos Tortoise. There’s a short walkway at the end to the right and there are some various birds, and a large Welsh Rabbit. At the end to the left of that door is a science laboratory with glass cases full of various snakes, some baby alligators (or caimans?), toads, and salamanders. There is a roof overhang for this building, so none of these creatures are receiving direct and scorching sunlight, which is good, but there is glare off the windows and you really can’t see the animals, which is why the old reptile house being dark inside was better.
The entrance to the zoo has a gate, then a plaza, then the ticket entrance. To the left is a nice exhibit featuring two Golden Eagles, which are the local universities mascot. To the left is the gift shop area. But in the plaza is this sculpture which I thought was nice. I don’t remember this friendly duo as they died right before I was born, but my family remembers them, so I’ve heard about them a lot.
Apparently the zoo was originally owned by a local bus driver who didn’t know anything about zoo’s? And apparently the first elephant was purchased by school children, for the zoo? I’m not sure on the authenticity of those bits of knowledge, but they seems legit. Anyways, the first elephant was named Hattie. She was lonely and miserable. I can understand why based on what her enclosure was like. Anyways, there was a goat who was missing a horn and they threw that in with her, like ya do. But this resulted in them becoming best friends. However, the creek that is next to the zoo flooded and the goat drowned, because the zoo was deplorable and Hattie the elephant died shortly after that from a broken heart.
We also saw the Chilean Flamingos that the zoo had recently obtained. They have a nice size enclosure on the edge of the lake. It is open all around. So, a boardwalk on two sides to cut off the lake from them, and then low fencing on the other two sides. Obviously they aren’t able to fly because there is no enclosure on top of them, but they are also protected from just wandering out of it, and we’re not going to get in. But it is very open. Also they have South American theme music, as there is a pavilion with speakers playing that music. Hopefully they don’t mind, but it is nice for us guests.
Right before we were able to see them, however, some college frat boys broke into the zoo one night. The flamingo’s don’t have a holding area behind the scenes like some of the other animals. This is their home, and they are easy to get to. The frat boys decided to steal a flamingo. Flamingo’s pair off, so when they were stealing the female, the male came to her rescue. It was really tragic and terrible. The male was found in the enclosure the next morning suffering from serious internal injuries, which means he was kicked or thrown or beaten, or all three by those boys. The female was found on my road, though not in front of my house. But still, just right down the road, and it’s not a long road. Both were still alive when they were found, but died shortly after from their injuries.
It’s amazing to me how many people don’t really know anything about animals, not even basics. Take this guy here for instance. I took this photo on my recent trip during the Birthday Bash this past Saturday. He’s away from the group, under the shade of the palm tree, on one leg, with his head down. It is beyond obvious that he is trying to sleep, though it was difficult with people continuously walking by and talking. He was two – three feet away from me.
One family comes up, and they have no idea that this bird is trying to sleep. “Mama! Look that bird is broken, it’s just staring at the tree!” “Are you broken bird? Why are you just staring at the tree and standing all funny?! Come on let’s go see the other animals who aren’t broken.”
First off, it’s a Flamingo, not just bird. Secondly, it’s not broken. This is how flamingo’s sleep. He just has his eye open because it keeps opening when there’s too much noise. He’s not staring at the tree! *rolls eyes* I mean have these people never even seen flamingo lawn ornaments?
Often times though it’s kids wanting the animals to do tricks and the parents being fine with their kids harassing the animals. Once, while I was watching the alligators not move, some kid, a boy about ten, was screaming at it to move. Then he starts spitting on it. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” “I want it to move.” “Well, I want you to move, how would you like it if I spit on you? You want me to do that? Stop harassing the animals, will ya? Just be cool. Just look at it, it’s not here to do tricks for you.”
The jaguar had an awesome exhibit. Fake stones in front of this glass, and an overgrown Mayan temple. Sadly he just passed away. But, I remember bringing our little cousin to the zoo and it was the first time we’d seen the jaguar. She went up to the glass and he started pawing and licking the glass. Some people next to her were all, “Aww, isn’t that cute? He wants to play?” The Sister and I gave them a sideways glance and then told our cousin, “Actually, he does. Play with you to death because he wants to eat you!” They thought we were just being mean, but it was completely true. She was definitely food, not friend.
Another time a kid, another boy, but this time about seven or eight, was looking at the tiger while I was there. Actually he was screaming at it to do tricks and started throwing things at the fence. I told the kid not to do it, that he should respect the tiger. He basically told me to fuck off in little kid speak and continued to scream at, taunt, and throw items towards the tiger. Then the tiger got really close to the fence and I knew something terrible would happen. It turned around and I quickly got out-of-the-way and told the kid he should probably move now. He was belligerent, back talked me and didn’t move. The tiger sprayed him. It was the most awesome thing ever and that kid totally deserved it.
But now I’ll move on to Birthday Bash. They keep having these events every year, but this was the first time that I went. I was like a twelve-year-old. I was so excited for it, I could barely sleep the night before. I went with some family friends. Out of that family there are three boys and a daughter. The daughter is closest to my age, but I’m close with all the siblings in that family, even though the sons are older. Well, the second son, his daughter is fourteen years younger than I, but we’re sort of close as I’ve hung out with her a lot and she comes to my art parties. So, it was her and her boyfriend, whom we’ll call The Niece and The Boyfriend. But surprise! The youngest sons daughter who is five decided she’d come along too, whom well call our Five Year Old. So, technically I did have three kids with me. Not that The Niece and The Boyfriend are that young as they aren’t even teenagers anymore, but they are considerably younger than I am.
And all during the event they kept bringing various animals out into the grounds for people to see up close and to touch. Every time I’d see a handler, I excitedly scanned the scene until I could figure out what animal it was, and then would jump for joy inside myself and rush over there to it.
This was me as a twelve-year-old and younger. Only I would be very audible. On Saturday I whispered to myself, “A Bunny!” while inside my head I was loudly proclaiming “BUNNY!!!” When I was twelve, this would have been said, very loudly to my parents. Getting to the particular animal would have depended on how far away from it I was. I knew to be quite and gentle around animals. So, if I was far away I would run until I was five feet from it and then gotten into calm mode to come up to it quietly. Otherwise, if I were closer I’d walk quickly and then slow up. On Saturday I did the latter. Mainly because I’m an adult and other adults are very judgy if one who is not a small child is running around like a small child.
I’m glad I was taught to be quite and calm with animals. Most kids that I encounter at the zoo, and even on the day of the Birthday Bash, were not quite and calm. I was given weird looks by some of the staff, possibly because I am an adult who did not have a child with them, because the only adults who were coming up to see the animals had children with them. But I was able to pet a bunny, a bearded dragon, a kunekune pig, a hedgehog, a tortoise, and several snakes. Several of the handlers would see ‘single adult, no child’ and pass me by and wouldn’t let me see, touch, or know anything about the animal. I wasn’t even allowed to touch the chinchillas during the special behind the scenes tour, I think because I was just an adult. Everyone else got to touch the chinchilla while it was out and about in the zoo, but that handler passed me by and wouldn’t let me touch it then either. Very disappointing.
I only stopped at two of the information booths. The first one was about animals native to our area. I had to ask her to tell me about the items and ask if I was allowed to touch them. She didn’t even want to go into her spiel at first because there were no kids present. But I did get to touch black bear fur and a skull, coyote fur and skull, deer fur and see a tee-niny brown bat skull in a clear box and an endangered gopher frog. She did lighten up a bit after she had been talking awhile. Perhaps she was just nervous? It was interesting that the bear fur was coarse, yet soft and that the coyote fur was extremely coarse.
I also stopped at the South American booth and this girl had no problem engaging. Sadly I can’t even remember what all was on the table, I just remember the very large toad that they had named Jabba the Toad.
There were special, behind the scenes tours for Birthday Bash that were included in the admission price; African Barn, Animal Quarantine, Animal Kitchen, and the Jaguar Exhibit. There were also two special, behind the scenes tours that were extra, which we all paid for; The Tiger and Steampunk Ville. You had to sign up for a tour time for the two extra one’s. Our times were 11:45 for Steampunk Ville and 12:30 for The Tiger. We went completely out-of-order and all over the zoo, but I’ll just do this in order.
First, I’ll just quickly show some pictures of the zoo in general; all the non tour parts.
We only have two main sections; Africa and South America with other animals that fall into different categories scattered throughout the zoo. However, the KuneKune pig is from New Zealand, but it lives in the Africa section, which I find amusing. I’m not a huge fan of pigs, but these guys are pretty adorable. The one pictured above lives with some emu’s and a tortoise.
These guys are on the other side of Africa in one of the two petting zoos with some sort of African bovine animal. It’s funny to me that in this first petting zoo, they tell you to be extremely careful because the miniature cow animal is fussy and will ram you with its horns and the pigs can be very fussy as well. What the hell, y’all? But, yes, I totally went in the petting zoo and touched the piggies and the cow thing. I really wish I could remember what it was called, but it was really quite soft. The piggies though were extremely coarse, their hair almost quill-like.
They have two Serval’s further back in Africa. The entrance to Africa is open and hot. The back portion is more shaded and cooler. Generally when I am here the Serval’s are sleeping. It’s hot here. Most humans sleep during the day too. But it was a cooler day that was overcast, so both of them were up and about it. I’d not really researched them on the internet, so I had no idea until today that they had stub tails, as in half-size tails. Very interesting. I adore the Serval’s though, as they are quite tiny for big cats and can jump exceedingly high.
The second petting zoo has African Pygmy Goats and then some fluffy sheep. I would have gone in this one, and I think that you can normally, but it didn’t seem like that was something that was happening this past Saturday. I adore goats though, so am always happy to go and visit them.
This guy is from India. There’s an enclosure next to it with two females. I’m not a huge fan of primates, and don’t really care that much for this one, however I took the photo because our zoo decorates the exhibits for holidays, as The Niece and The Boyfriend were telling me about when they were here on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure this guy enjoys playing with the decorations, but he just always seems so mad that it was funny imagining that he had a bit of a hissy fit and ripped all the decorations down.
There’s five in this picture. These are on the other side of the boardwalk from the alligators. There have always been turtles and ducks milling about in the zoo. They’re not really enclosed, they’re just there, like the squirrels or local birds that come in.
The Lemurs, as I have mentioned are across the inner plaza (not the one with the Golden Eagles) from the tigers. They’re exhibit was also one of the first new one’s back in the nineties. They, along with the Prairie Dogs are the first exhibits you come to upon entering the zoo. By the time we ended up at the lemurs they were all fast asleep taking a mid-day nap. Most people might think that’s boring, but as they’re always active, when I visit, this was something new and completely adorable.
Now we’re in South America. Fred, the Giant Anteater lives with the Capybara’s and the Llama’s. He generally just paces, and far at the back near that gate. I thought this was because he was in a zoo, but I researched them online and this is a thing that they do even in the wild, just aimlessly walk, I suppose searching for food.
They may be a very large rodent, the largest in the world, but I find them to be adorable. But then, I’m a fan of rodents.
The black one is the male and the golden one is the female, but they’re still officially called Black Howler Monkey’s. Not that I dislike them. I don’t hate them, but I’m picky about primates. I like the Cotton Top Tamarin’s our zoo has, but they’re difficult to see, so I’ve not gotten a good photo of them yet. But it was chilly by mid day, which is why I suppose the lemurs were huddle together, as were these Black Howler Monkey’s. It was just really cute and also sad because they looked pitiful. They wanted something, though I’m not sure what. They kept looking toward the fenced area of the Jaguar exhibit, though there were no people there.
Later I found out they were hiding plastic eggs on those tours. Is this what they wanted? Were they sad the Jaguar was gone? Doubtful, since it would have eaten them if it’d had the chance. So… I’m not sure what they wanted, but they were cute in this moment, none-the-less.
African Barn Tour:
I found this keeper to be the nicest and the coolest. I can’t remember a lot of what was said, nor was I able to take a lot of pictures, as these tours moved fast. But hers was interesting and informative.
This tour was about the animals of the African Veldt and we were exploring the area where they sleep at night. They have various types of Guinea Fowl roaming around freely about the zoo, but in this section they had two Vulturine Fowl in an enclosure because they had eggs not yet hatched. She also discussed the Ostriches and Emus while we were in this section.
She asked someone to name a type of flightless bird besides Ostriches and Emus. The twelve-year-old in me kept wanting to answer, but I was trying not to excitedly shout out answers on these tours, so the kids in the tours could answer, but on a few occasions I couldn’t help myself, the words would shoot out of my mouth without my say so. “Penguins.” I said before anyone else could respond. I tried to hush it up mid-word, but it was out there. However the keeper was excited, “I’m so glad someone mentioned that today!”
Then she told us how Ostriches and Emus have no chest muscles like other birds, which is why they can not fly and are in a classification of their own. The Penguin can’t fly, but does have these chest muscles, so it flies in the water basically. Then she went on to say that they can’t stop female Ostriches from laying eggs, but she refuses to sit on them and won’t hatch them anyways. But they take them from her regardless. She’s already laid 80 eggs this year. If they were to let them all hatch, the zoo would have been overrun by Ostriches long ago. They’re going to sell them to raise money for the African Veldt section, which I thought was cool. I’ll go ahead and state that Ostriches and Emu’s are not a favourite of mine. I don’t want people hurting them, but I’m kind of wary of most birds, and large, flightless one’s scare the bejeebus out of me. Plus, they’re not nice. I mean, birds are birds and do bite, but Ostriches are mean anyways. They’re just ornery.
We got to hold the eggs, which was just me and two kids, I believe siblings. It was really quite heavy. And she told us that Ostriches are not very smart and will just trample all over their own eggs because that’s how they are, so the eggs are extremely strong to withstand that. A three hundred pound person could stand on the egg and it wouldn’t crack. We were still extremely careful with the egg, regardless of that new information.
This was our view from the keeper side of the exhibit. It’s a view you can see from the guest section. However, very important information was learned here at this gate. The Zebra’s are a family. The mom and two daughters. They were born at this zoo, the daughters. Then our keeper tour guide says, “You’re probably wondering where daddy zebra is. You’re standing on him.” All of us stepped backwards.
It was macabre, but then she had a very good reason. Any of the animals that die at the zoo have to be buried on the property, because people will dig up the remains to sell them to collectors and just people who want something of exotic animals. Sometimes animals can be buried off property, at certain places that do that, but basically the entire zoo property is a giant grave yard and that was still pretty macabre. One of the elephants is buried on the property somewhere… and they have absolutely no idea where. “Think about that the next time you’re wandering around the zoo.” Yikes!
The next tour was about health. They have a quarantine facility where the animals can get blood work done, check up’s, x-rays, and surgery if it’s needed. Also new animals must be quarantined for thirty days before being put into their assigned exhibits. There are grey squishy pads at the entrance filled with sand and antibacterial stuff that you have to walk over to keep germs out of the quarantine area and again out of the rest of the zoo.
First we were able to see baby ducks that had just been born, cheeping away under their little heat light, all huddled together for warmth. There were three different kinds, but I can’t remember the variety. Then she took us into a holding cell to explore the interior and the exterior area. She locked us in, turned off the main lights and said, “See you in thirty days” and left. I mean she came back a minute later, but it was interesting to see it from the animals perspective.
It wasn’t nice. I could immediately imagine being an animal, not understanding, being in that cement and metal holding cell. It was ample space, but it was like a prison. I only wanted to escape, but remained calm. I do have a love-hate relationship with zoos. I want the animals to run free, even if it means I never see them in person. But, humans are cruel and for the most part they don’t share, so kill animals and take away their habitats. So, it’s a chance to study and know these animals and keep their numbers from declining. It also gives a chance for us to see them up close. And our zoo is actually really swell with the animals and there really is only so much comfort you can give a wild animal.
It’s not like you can give it a comfy couch or a bed, because they’ll just rip it to shreds. And they are wild animals so you can’t rock it to sleep or something. So, while it’s not nature and what they know, it’s actually not too, too bad.
Then after that she picked one of use to have parasites and it was The Boyfriend, which The Niece and I found amusing. She invited The Boyfriend to look into the microscope to see what he had. The Niece and I also looked, but no one else did. As the keeper was talking, I took a picture through the microscope of the slide. She also had him stand on the scale to weigh him in order to know exactly how much medicine to give him. Which she did give him and he had to drink, though it was just orange Powerade. It was a fun and informative tour, and I liked the tour guide, but it was not as interesting as African Barn of Animal Kitchen to me.
There was also an animal X-ray lit up and she asked if anyone could identify the animal. No one guessed. It was of the male Black Howler Monkey. Most of the animals that our zoo has are basically rescues. The Niece and The Boyfriend told me about the Red-Tailed Hawks while we were looking at them in their exhibit. They’d learned about them during their trip on Valentines Day. When they brought one of them out into the zoo, which is when I took the photo that you’ve seen already, the keeper repeated the information. Red-Tailed Hawks always end up getting injured or hit by cars in the wild. The pair we have, can never be re-released. The female, who is in the photo, is completely blind, while the male is missing one of his wings.
The male Black Howler Monkey was ill-treated at his former zoo. He wasn’t given enough food nor the correct food and so his spine sadly will always be curved out of whack. But I like that about our zoo, now. I’m sure we got the “reject” animals back in the day because we couldn’t afford better, but it’s a much nicer place for any animals now and I like that our zoo is continuing to get the “reject” animals. Blind or disabled birds, hunchback monkeys, etc. and wanting to care for them and give them a good life. It makes me happy.
Our tour guide for this one was an older lady, perhaps in her fifties. She reminded me of Ruth, the mother, from Six Feet Under, but she wasn’t fussy. She was actually rather nice and laid-back. She in charge of the diets of all of the animals. This garden they just started, so they’ll have real beds and not planters later. I like that they have a garden for the animals to give them fresh foods. But, I also took this picture specifically for The Sister, though I’m not sure she appreciated it at all.
We headed into a building and before coming to any of the food, she showed us nets for catching animals, and told us that the Prairie Dogs escape… a lot. I’ve never witnessed this, but they do just have a hill that has no real enclosure around it. The Peacocks, Peahens, and Guinea Fowl will jump into the enclosure all the time. There’s a wall, so that if they are at the bottom of the hill, they can’t run out, and we can’t get in, though they do have tunnels you can go into and stick your head up into a plexiglass bubble. But I immediately imagined one of the pudgy Prairie Dogs leaping from the top of the hill to the top of the wall while cheeping in happiness, perhaps with front paws raised to the sky exclaiming his excitedness to be free. I tried not to laugh.
Then we saw a room with food. I never thought about it before, though upon seeing it, it completely makes sense… that a company would specialize in food for these types of animals. But it looked like you were going to be shopping at Petsmart. It looked liked bags and cans of cat and dog food, only it would say Primate, Ostrich, Zebra, etc.
Before the next room of food, there was a mini hardware store wall. All sorts of bolts and rings and brackets; just tons of replacement parts for things like you’d see in a hardware store, because as she said, “things break, a lot, and you’re always having to replace some bit or another.”
In the next room, she’d laid out various foods that she prepares and we were to match the animal photo with the dish. Just about everyone participated on this one. That is a picture of the Cotton Top Tamarin. Aren’t they cute? And they’re tiny, a little smaller than a football or so. Anyways, they also have a supplier for whole animals that come frozen, which she showed us in the walk in freezer (through the glass in the door) after this room. They have different types of fish, rodents and baby chickens, frozen whole to give to the various animals that eat them. Also, large types of bugs that come in a can for other animals.
Depending on the animal, she prepares a dish of the nutrient rich pellet food, along with frozen or canned creatures, fresh veggies or fruit, and also sometimes special treats. There are five or six treat bars they have at the zoo, that aren’t so much as treats as part of the diet, because they are nutrient dense. They animals don’t get them all the time but they are part of the diet, so they receive them often. And sometimes the equine treats for the Zebra’s can be used for certain other animals and the Primate treats can be used for certain other animals.
They also use an air popper and pop natural popcorn (ya know, no butter, salt, etc) for some of the animals who can have that in their diet on occasion and, of course, who like it. Also no food is ever given from bowls. They try to help the animals have as much of a wild, natural life as possible. They have the animals scavenge for the food like they would in the wild, or for other animals they’ll put the food into certain types of toys, simulating how they’d dig out their food in the wild.
So, for the primates, there is a plastic puzzle piece that’s shaped like a log. The keeper will put the food in it and hang it from a branch before the primates are let out into the exhibit for the day. They will play with it and gradually be able to obtain food from it all day, like they would in the wild. Also I was fascinated to know that the Giant Anteater will eat avocado’s in the wild, so this is part of Fred’s diet at the zoo.
Lastly, came a discussion about poop. All the meat eater’s poop gets tightly put into plastic bags and thrown into a special dumpster, but the grass feeders, they’re poop is thrown into a stall. It’s great for gardening and they actually have people from the community back their trucks in through the side gate that was near this area and they give them this grass feeding animal poop for free. The Sister said we should get some Zebra poop for our garden this year. I don’t know how you actually go about obtaining it/setting up the meeting to back your truck into the area, but it’s probably calling on the telephone. We all detest using the telephone, but I’m willing to do it to get some Zebra poop for our garden.
The Jaguar Exhibit:
The last tour that was included with admission was to go inside the Jaguar holding and exhibit area, to see what it’s like for an animal in the exhibit. It was bitter-sweet as the Jaguar passed a way a few months ago. This was also the very last thing we did that day, as the keeper entrance is right beside the zoo entrance. We were also the very last tour.
The keeper for this tour had been one of two keepers that had been very close to the Jaguar. She reminded me of myself a little bit. Mainly some things she said, actions she had done, not so much her manner of speaking or movement or anything. We got to go inside where the Jaguar had slept and see the huge and numerous bite marks on his bed and his favourite toy ball. It was just me and a few kids that actually did this.
She told us that the Jaguar had been obtained from another zoo. His name was Cody and wouldn’t go by anything else, but the zoo had a raffle and chance to name him and the winning name was Sampson. I was a little upset to find that I’d been lied to about his name, but then she explained and it was a good explanation.
Basically there has to be trust between the keeper and their animal. There has to be commands followed so neither gets hurt. That link would be lost with everyone throwing the animal’s name about all the time. It would learn not to listen to their keeper. I’d never really thought about the daily life of the animal before. I mean I had wondered where they sleep at night, what it’s like, what they get fed, etc. But, I’m only viewing that animal for perhaps five minutes. Occasionally I’ll encounter annoying zoo-goers while I’m viewing that animal, but I hadn’t thought past that to the all day, every day annoyances, or that people would be constantly shouting at Sampson or screaming his name out to him on a near constant basis.
My thing I’m sure isn’t nearly as annoying. I generally am excited unto myself and just watch the animal. If it looks at me or is close enough I do a small finger wave and give a soft hello. She told us that Sampson was constantly getting people screaming at him with “Here kitty kitty! Play kitty! Good kitty! Kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, KITTY, KITTY, KITTY!!!!” Oh man, poor kitty. Yeah, to myself I say “Kitty” because it is cute and adorable and it’s a kitty, but I also realize that I’m standing before a killing machine and this is not my “domesticated” cat at home, though they share similar traits. This kitty does not really want to be held, or cuddled, or petted and certainly not mocked or placated. It deserves respect, which most people do not give these animals. But then I’m the weird one who also thanks the animals for letting me take their pictures.
She also told us that most people thought that when Sampson was at the fake rocks in front of the glass that he was playful or liked them or some other such nonsense. Which I’ve already told you about, and The Sister and I knew wasn’t the case. The glass is triple paned and bullet proof, but there is a space that’s marred by years of him licking and pawing the glass. His only intention was to get on the other side of that glass to eat the thing he was staring at. Humans.
She also mentioned that he would sit on the very top of the Mayan pyramid and survey all the animals that he’d like to eat. The alligators, the flamingo’s, the lemurs, the capybara’s, the black howler monkey’s, etc. I didn’t know that, but then was sad that he was constantly faced with all of the things he wanted to eat.
On a side note, I also find it a bit food cruel for the tigers. They can’t see any of the other animals as they are surrounded by thick bamboo, but the petting zoo with the piggies over in Africa is right behind their exhibit. The zoo even has a sign at that petting zoo area saying that tigers LOVE to eat pigs and that our tigers can constantly smell these pigs. That’s so sad. Constantly smelling them and never able to get to them.
Anyways, when Sampson the Jaguar wasn’t busy trying to hunt humans, he would sleep in front of that glass because it the quietest part of his entire exhibit. Didn’t know that either. She said in his old age, he had gone deaf, which was good for him, because then he’d sleep anywhere and couldn’t hear all of the annoying taunts.
And every day at 4:15 is when he’d be let back into his holding area for dinner. There is an outer cement wall with a hole in it about three feet around. Beyond that the heavy cage. She showed us a picture on her mobile. He was always wanting to eat, so he’d be there everyday at the exact time waiting for them to open the hatch. So, ever day on the other side of that hole and fence was a jaguar staring at them.
Really, the main thing I learned from that tour is that jaguars do nothing but eat. They sleep, dream, and think food. I mean the thing was constantly trying to eat humans, sitting up high dreaming he could eat the surrounding animals, and wanting to go in early because he wanted food. Poor thing. She also showed us a small PVC pipe coming out of the wall. It was where they’d run hoses in to clean out his water area in the exhibit. Anything left in the exhibit, even faucet spigots, he would eat.
The zoo director felt that Sampson was too fat, as he wasn’t able to run and hunt for food, and he was getting older so was less active anyway, so he had him put on a more appropriate diet for his age and activity level. But, he was just so cute staring at her for food through that larger hole, so she’d sneak frozen baby chicks and frozen fish treats into that PVC pipe for him. This was one main reason she reminded me of myself. I would have done the same thing. She didn’t give him a lot. Just one item at the end of the day, but he wasn’t allowed treats. She said she got in trouble for it, but that it was totally worth it.
Another is that Sampson loved hard-boiled eggs, though they gave him terrible gas. But they gave them to him occasionally as a treat, because he was so gosh darn adorable. And I would have done the same, terrible gas or no, because adorable kitty. This is also how the plastic eggs filled with candy came into play. She said the last group hid five eggs and we were to find them. We could keep the candy, but give her the eggs back. Only one person, a boy, found an egg. This knowledge made me think the Black Howler Monkey’s wanted whatever was the fun item they kept seeing in the Jaguar Exhibit.
Also, I don’t know if Chicken, the Great Horned Owl, was always kept near the jaguar, or only since he died, but her home is in the greater jaguar area, next to the entrance into the exhibit. This is when I found out her name. I want to say she remembered me, as she looked at me different from the other people in the group, but I could just be hoping that were true.
This was the first of the two extra tours. I was excited to go behind the scenes on this one and it was well worth the extra five dollars.
First we went into the laboratory area and were able to see the reptiles and amphibians much better than from the outside. There was only one kid on this tour and that was our Five Year Old. The keeper immediately told us to look around and guess which of the animals was the fussiest one; the one always wanting to attack the keepers. Someone guessed the snapping turtle, but he’s actually really sweet. Another guessed the baby alligators/caimans. Another guessed something else.
I saw this guy, pinioned up at the top corner of his enclosure. Looked like a salamander the size of my hand. I just knew it was him. However, when I tried to guess, I couldn’t find him again so this happened, “I think it’s the… the… (wild looking around), haha I can’t find it now. Umm… (mumbles to self.. ‘fat feet’ trying to think of the name salamander)… uhhh (nervous because EVERYONE is looking at me), the salamander type creature, but I can’t figure out where he is now.”
The keeper went right to the case and asked, “This one?” It took me a few seconds to see him again. “Yeah! Him!” “You’re the only person who’s gotten it correct today!” Which made me extremely pleased and beam with pride on the inside, because I’m apparently a huge nerd.
We weren’t given a lot of time to look around in here, though I could have stayed for at least thirty minutes, but these were very short tours. But, next we went back outside and around to the back. And she’s talking about the Turkey Vulture in the cage. Definitely not a fan of vultures. I mean, I appreciate them, but I don’t like seeing them on the side of the road, and especially not hopping around in their odd manner like they do. And while this part of the tour was disgusting, it was also really interesting and cool.
Turkey Vultures specifically release their bowls on themselves, so as to cover their legs because it helps them keep cool. They also vomit when they feel threatened, as to ward off anything that might attack them. The keeper said it’s the worst smell ever. And I did already know that they are bald on top, because they shove their heads into carcasses and this way they don’t get gunk stuck in head feathers.
They can also ingest diseases like tuberculosis, anthrax, cholera, rabies, and botulism. Their stomach acid literally kills that disease. They will also defecate around the carcass while eating, because their poop is free of diseases and it helps to clean their own legs from having stepped in the carcass, as well as cleaning the area around the carcass for animals that feed later. This is important because it reduces these diseases in the area. In area’s where the turkey vulture has been killed off, these diseases run amok.
So, while I’m all eh… about vultures, I already “liked” them, because they have a dirty job and somebody’s gotta do it; so I knew they were beneficial for ecosystems and the environment, I just didn’t realize how cool that was until this tour.
We then moved into the other part of the building to talk more about poop. Oh boy. She basically had different types of chocolate in a pan (instead of actual poop, so that was nice) to demonstrate animal poop from a keepers point of view. So, the Baby Ruth bar is the perfect consistency for all the animals in the zoo. A different candy bar was not ideally perfect, but it also wasn’t terribly bad, the animal just needed to up it a bit on the water. Nutella is where keepers started having problems. It could mean that the animal got into something it wasn’t supposed to, was lacking on a vitamin, needed more water than merely a bit, perhaps it had a parasite. Chocolate syrup was the one keepers never, ever want to see. Basically the animal is in extremely bad condition, and while they won’t really die from the other one’s, this one had a very good chance of killing the animal, whatever might be wrong with it.
So, I actually found that interesting. I know everything poops, though I’m not a fan of poop as in let’s all talk about it, look at it, make jokes about it, etc. But, I do have cats that own me. Poop is important. One needs to know what their cat is making to know whether it’s normal, slightly OK, or we need to get to the vet, NOW! So, I don’t mind talking poop from a purely scientific standpoint.
She did end up giving us what appeared to be a very large potato wrapped in tinfoil to pass around and try to figure out what was inside. I was not at all thrilled to learn that it was Galapagos Tortoise poop and later The Niece and The Boyfriend laughed at me for that, since they didn’t hold. But, it was interesting to know that they poop out those half football size things about eight times a day.
She also told us that the sloths only poop once a week, but they also poop an entire weeks worth in that one outing, so to speak. So she likes that she only has to clean their exhibit of poop once a week, but also that it is really foul-smelling and not at all nice. Good to know. Eh….
She did open the back of the exhibit to the Chinchilla’s, and though we weren’t allowed to touch them, there were some interesting facts. The one’s at our zoo are sisters. One is white and one is salt and pepper grey. Chinchilla’s are generally always the grey colour. The white sister was a true albino with pink eyes. The grey sister they have is extremely fussy and can quickly be completely over something. If she could scowl and cross her arms over her chest and stamp her foot, she would. Chinchilla’s spit when they’re mad or feel threatened and it smells really bad. The grey one spits… a lot. The white one, hardly ever. And they were so much more active with the back door open than when you look at them through the glass. Perhaps they thought they’d be fed? They were hopping from perch to perch and it was just the most adorable thing ever.
Then she opened the door to the Sloth exhibit and we could go in, touch them, and take pictures. Just no holding them, but I wasn’t about to try to pick one up to hold, though they do have an expensive session where you can hold the sloth and play with it, with keeper supervision. Anyways, it was weird being in there. It’s not a very wide space, perhaps 3 x 5 feet, but it was very tall. There are a few heavy ropes strung in there and a headboard (I suppose to suggest a bedroom) and a painting of a sloth hung above the bed.
To the left of the above photo is the glass window, and yes there were several adults and children peering in a taking photo’s while I was in there. Eeep! There’s probably only another foot, if that, off to the right before this wall hits the back wall. I did pet him and say hello and that I had been there for his big unveiling day, and thanked him for letting me take his photo. He opened his eyes, looked at me and lifted his head a little at all that. I thought it was cute how he was nestling with the streamers. The Niece and The Boyfriend said that on Valentines Day he was very, very, very slowly moving his front paw towards the streamers to catch them over and over again. Adorable.
I don’t know how she perched herself way up there, but it’s cute how she was snuggled in a tight little ball, making the photograph all askew. I wish I could have seen her face, but oh well. I did pet her a tiny bit and say hello.
The Tiger Tour:
This was the tour that I was most excited about and it was also well worth the extra five dollars. We were waiting for our tour to start and there was this pageant lady standing there is platform shoes, her nice clothing, tiara and sash. She seemed nice enough, but I wasn’t sure exactly who she was or why she was there. Later, I saw the above photo on the zoos Instagram. We missed having birthday cake because we weren’t interested and from our vantage point you just saw a sea of people.
Apparently she was their special guest. She’s Mississippi Miss Hospitality by the way, though I honestly have no idea what that means. Wait let me look it up. OK, this is held in Hattiesburg every year and women from all over the state compete to be our states ambassador. That’s pretty cool. Above is apparently Erin Morgan of Laurel, Mississippi. So, this is who was on the Tiger Tour with us; a local-ish celebrity and some guy (her boyfriend?), a few families with kids and us.
So, before we could enter, the keeper asked us what the most terrifying thing we’ve ever done or encountered was. No one had an answer. So, her answer was, “OK, THIS will be the most terrifying thing!” Nope. Sorry. Wasn’t terrifying at all. I experienced all of that, came home and clipped off my tour bracelets and I was playing with our very tiny cat Marzipan and I thought, “THIS! This should have been my answer to that tiger question!”
Do not be fooled by her tininess or how adorable and sweet she looks. She’s a stone cold killer. Her daddy was a street cat and super mean and tough and she’s just like him. She’ll cut a bitch. Not that I’m afraid of her, but she can be very ruthless, intimidating and scary and has made us bleed more times than we can count. She’s out for blood and she doesn’t care who gets trampled.
Seriously though the tour wasn’t terrifying at all, at least not for me. They had us in the back holding enclosure crammed behind some taped line on the floor. Four or five feet beyond that was a super heavy iron fencing and then the pacing tiger. It would have possibly been more terrifying to be two inches from the fence. Honestly, you couldn’t stick your hand through the fence openings and the tiger could have gotten claws out, but that would have only been a mere two – three inches.
The Sister said it was to prevent law suits, but the keeper was two inches from the fence and it couldn’t have hurt her unless it somehow managed to learn how to open a door or just magically bust the gate door down. I mean honestly, if the tiger were going to break through it, it was pointless to have a special tour and we were all screwed anyways. I understand that tigers are extremely dangerous, and I understand that you don’t want stupid humans to be stupid like they do, or for kids to be heedless as can happen, but terrifying? Pfft!
When I’m watching the tigers from a guest standpoint and one of them comes as close as they can to the fence (which I have witnessed twice), well, I am about the same distance away from it as I was in the back holding area… and I can see the tiger better out in the exhibit than I could in the holding area. This wasn’t nearly as special as they had made it out to be. It was still really fun, and well worth the extra money, but terrifying and super close? Nope. Nuh-uh. He was even extremely pacey and looked a bit wild, not too much so, but also not docile and it still wasn’t all that terrifying. Exciting, as in happy, but yeah…
Was it terrifying for the others? I was too busy with my eyes on the tiger being all smiley about it to see how others were reacting, so I asked my companions tonight about their thoughts.
The Niece said that she thought it would be terrifying, but that it wasn’t. She’s not sure if it’s because The Boyfriend was standing beside her or if it’s because she had our Five Year Old there, so felt like a protective mother, but it wasn’t scary at all. It was also absolutely worth the money and he was beautiful that close up.
The Boyfriend didn’t say it was or wasn’t terrifying, so I’m guessing that was a no from him. He thought it was amazing and definitely money well spent. Also that he wishes it were legal to own tigers “because he loves them so much!” Those quotes are because I added that part, though I’m guessing it’s true.
I also would like own a tiger… in theory, but besides being dangerous they are extremely difficult to take care of, especially when they are cubs. If you don’t get the feeding and the times just right when they’re young, you’ve killed them. So, I know, I could never do justice to the tigers way of life if I owned one. Working with one however? Absolutely I would love that!
Anyways, she told us what they feed them; frozen baby chicks, frozen fish, all sorts of minced meats cobbled together. She took a Tupperware container from the fridge, about the size of a human baby, showed us the contents, and then had us pass it around to see how heavy it was and that was just this one tigers dinner for later that evening. It was pretty heavy. Then she got him to stand up to get his treat, and she fed him using tongs; some type of meaty goodness a little bigger than a half-dollar.
Then she took us back outside and showed us a huge ball that looked like it was fashioned out of old tires. She said they’ll grab it with their mouths and drag it around the exhibit. They’ll throw it in their little pond, it will sink to the bottom and they’ll drag it out no problem. Then she invited people to come over and try to move it, to see how heavy it was. Several children went over and tried to push it. I wanted to give a try and so did our Five Year Old, so I led her over there and she wanted me to push it first. I could move it, but it was heavy, but then I’m also an adult, so I wasn’t struggling as much as the kids. Our Five Year Old tried it and could barely move it and then one of the boys just kept playing around with it while the keeper talked.
Again, I was the only adult taking full advantage of my tour. It’s fine if they don’t, but it did make me wonder. Were they self conscious; thinking it was only for kids to enjoy this stuff and others might judge them though they really wanted to participate? Or did they just not really care enough to participate in some things? I don’t know.
Though I got up entirely too early, didn’t get nearly enough sleep, and paid a total of twenty dollars for an entire day at a very small zoo (which is not something I really do) and I had a few minor quips, I actually enjoyed myself immensely and I enjoyed the company of The Niece, The Boyfriend, and our Five Year Old. No one in my family really wanted to hear about my day, either because I prattle on so, because absolutely everything was highly interesting to me, or they’re just not interested, I’m not sure. So, congratulations to you if you made it all the way to the end!