Happy Birthday to You, You Live in a Zoo

It was my birthday last week, and unlike last year, it did not feature a terrible string theory exam! Instead, I got some lovely flowers and cupcakes at work on Friday, a day playing video games on Saturday (I’m a nerd), and a trip to the zoo on Sunday. One of those activities lends itself well to lots of pictures and stories, so let me tell you about the zoo.

Birthday swag.
Birthday swag.

On top of paying for the zoo admission, M made the great sacrifice of waking up early on a Sunday so that we could get there for the cheetah encounter at 10am. He grumbled a lot as we wandered through an unfamiliar suburb, trying to find the zoo entrance, but I think he was fine after we arrived to see some cheetahs chowing down on horse meat. The keepers were in the enclosure with them and explained that cheetahs have more of a “prey” mentality than other predators, because lions and hyenas can easily chase them away from their food. As a result, the cheetahs here get to go on walks with the keepers around the zoo! Best job ever: cheetah walker.

Yummy!
Yummy!

Note in the background of this picture that there’s a flock of very fat sparrows. The cheetah eventually gave up on getting the last scraps of meat of the bone and left to lie in the sun, at which point the sparrows descended on the meat. Tame as they may be, the cheetah was fierce enough to claim the meat back from the feathery intruders.

At this point we wandered back through the African animal area to the giraffe encounter. This was way more of an encounter than with the cheetahs, because we actually got to feed a giraffe! As you can see in the picture, the walkway is at giraffe head height, so the keepers brought out a bucket of celery, apples and carrots for people to give to the giraffe. There were many people in the queue and the bucket was large, but the giraffe was quite eager to take all the snacks. Its tongue was really long so it could reach out at take the food even if you were out of range of its (very large and knobby) head. It was cool to see it wrap its coarse, purple tongue repeatedly around a stick of celery and pull it in. We went through the line twice!

Other keepers were running interference on the zebras, ostriches and other giraffes.
Other keepers were running interference on the zebras, ostriches and other giraffes.

By now we had figured out that the animal encounters at this zoo were a bit more special than just watching the keepers feed the animals, so when we heard an announcement about an impromptu encounter with a fruit bat at the macaw exhibit, we headed over right away. And indeed, it was awesome! The keeper exiled the blue macaws to a separate room (which they were very vocally opposed to) so that she could bring out a grey-headed fruit bat. This bat, Maggie, is no longer on exhibit as she is 21 years old; if she lives to 22, she’ll be the oldest bat ever. Instead, Maggie lives in the zookeeper’s office, where by all accounts she is spoiled. She can’t fly but when the keeper held her belly-down, she happily flapped her wings. Mostly she seemed to enjoy hanging off the keeper’s hand and climbing on the mesh fence between us and her.

They just wanted attention all the time.
They just wanted attention all the time.
Maggie the bat.
Maggie the bat.

After the bat, conveniently, the keepers took out the macaws for some “free-flying.” The keepers stood in the Galapagos tortoise exhibit (which was opposite the macaws and only fenced off by some one-foot tall pegs in the ground, spaced close enough that the tortoises couldn’t escape) and directed the macaws to fly back and forth from some branches to their arms. Because it was Mother’s Day, it was a busy day at the zoo so at some point there was a loud noise, which startled one of the macaws. Instead of flying off (which the keepers admitted happens sometimes), he just flew to cling to the outside mesh of his exhibit. The Galapagos tortoise watched all this with indifference.

Very disdainful.
Very disdainful.

This post is getting long, so the next post will be about the native Australian and New Zealand species, which were even cooler than those we’d seen so far!

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