Some Change

Several weeks ago, the Beloved and I decided to spend a day at one of San Diego’s more famous tourist destinations — the San Diego Zoo. We like the Zoo, and are members, but never seem to get there as often as we’d like. So, we figured, why not?

California Golden Bear and Golden Girl

California Golden Bear and Golden Girl

My general feeling is that a good zoo is on the balance a good thing. I know that the animals there don’t get the free range of their native environments, but when so many of those are being encroached upon by civilization and so many species are endangered, I think zoos act as an important buffer. They also serve as a means of education. As an urban kid, I got my only real exposure to the animal kingdom at the Philadelphia Zoo. Those trips kindled in me an interest in biology that I still have today.

The one thing I don’t like — in zoos, or anywhere else – is monkeys. Monkeys are creepy. Yes, I know they’re our genetic cousins, and maybe that’s it. Seeing a monkey in a zoo hits a little too close to home.



Our first path, of course, was “the monkey trail”, and there were lots of monkeys doing monkey things. But as you might find on a zoo on a warm day is that many of the animals were, you know, just hanging out. This didn’t sit too well with one family — an obese father bedecked in a t-shirt with a big eagle and two pudgy sons clad in camouflage. The boys were whining that the monkeys were “boring”. Dad’s answer? “Throw some change at ‘em… that’ll get ‘em moving.” The Beloved touched my arm as I began to turn to calmly point out the error of their ways, but fortunately one kid said, “I ain’t got no change.” and they moved on. I would have gladly swapped the primates behind the enclosure  for the ones in front of it.

The rest of the visit passed much more happily and we spent some time with animals that weren’t monkeys, but all through the day we kept ruefully asking each other if we had any change. For example, koalas are a pretty low energy animal from what I can gather. I’m pretty sure they could have put some of the stuffed koalas from the gift shop in the trees and it might create the same effect.

Koala Sleeping Zone

Koala Sleeping Zone

I like all the little gazelle like animals. I think they remind me of Penny. And our household is nearly unanimous in our appreciation of meerkats.

Who? Me? What's a Penny?

Who? Me? What’s a Penny?

Meerkat Pandering

Meerkat Pandering

Of course, when you’re there, you have to spend a little time looking at the elephants. They have a interesting new exhibit at the Zoo (with the elephants as the centerpiece) that compares modern animals to their Paleolithic counterparts. We were present for an interesting discussion of how and why elephants need regular pedicures. And I’m pretty sure one was being shy and trying to play hide-and-seek with us behind some rocks.

Elephant Pedicure

Elephant Pedicure

You Can't See Me

You Can’t See Me

All in all, it was a very fun day and we got to see a bunch of interesting animals and by and large didn’t see much more bad human behavior.

Guess. What. Day. It. Is!

Guess. What. Day. It. Is!

How about you? What’s your favorite animal to stop in and see from time to time?



26 thoughts on “Some Change

  1. That is some camel. I know you were itching to end the post just to get to the camel.
    Good stuff, Steve. Surprised to hear monkeys creep you out. Then again, we all have a cousin or two who gives us the creeps.

    • LD — that was a lot of camel. And he FOLLOWED us across his enclosure. I thought he wanted to come home with us. The Beloved said he was about to spit at me.

      Monkeys are creepy.

    • M—–I — yes, we did! It turns out that their environments in the wild are more rugged and they do a lot more long distance walking, so they wear down callouses on their feet that way. In the Zoo, the ground is too soft, so they have to have them taken care of by the zookeepers.

  2. The San Diego Zoo was the highlight of my visit to the city last year! I’d been there as a child years ago. I’d love to tell you it sparked a passion for wildlife biology then, but all I can remember is the gift shop and the stuffed lion I got there. Which is embarrassing.

    There is something about zoos that brings out the worse in human behavior. It’s as if people expected the animals to perform for them. My children and I once took some guests from China to the Minnesota Zoo, and one of them began teasing the storks in one exhibit. Before I could stop him, one of the birds began shrieking and flapping its wings furiously, as if it had finally lost it. Maybe it’s a cultural difference, maybe my guests had little experience with zoos: but they thought the whole thing was funny, while my children were horrified. “You should tell the zookeeper and make him stop!” my daughters cried. “You should hit him over the head with a rock and tell the police the monkeys threw it at him,” my son the budding hitman said. I told him I didn’t want the monkeys to get blamed for murder. They had it hard enough, living in Minnesota. :-/

    • HG — don’t you mean that the Zoo was the *second* highlight of your trip to San Diego last year!?! (hint..hint…)

      I do think that there’s a general perception that the animals are there to “entertain”, which is really unfortunate. Of course, I think people generally under-appreciate the “wildness” of animals. I’m thinking of the infamous tourist families that place toddlers near alligators or elephants in hopes of getting a “good shot.”

      • Ha! Of course! I met the Author and the Beloved in person! How could I have forgotten?

        (Of course, I didn’t get to meet the famous Penny. My daughter said later, “Didn’t you say they had a dog?” ;-) )

        Several years ago there was a horrible incident at the Minnesota Zoo, where an entire family of meerkats was put to death after one of them bit a child who climbed into their exhibit and tried to grab one. The parents refused to allow their daughter to be subjected to rabies treatment, so the state health department confiscated all of the meerkats—nobody knew which one bit the wretched brat—and euthanized them, in order to examine them for rabies. None of them had the disease, of course, but it forced the zoo to inspect all of the enclosures to make sure they were childproof. Many animal lovers wanted to know why the family was allowed to get off without so much as a fine. Other visitors who were present when the girl was bitten said the parents were posing her with the meerkats, and the father actually lifted her over the acrylic fence into the enclosure. Some said it was too bad he didn’t put her in with the caiman or the Komodo dragon.

  3. Looks like a great day! Aside from the humans, who should be the ones behind bars!
    I love to see the variety of antelopes and antelope-like creatures. Kudos, bongos, gazelles, sable antelope, …the list is endless. I haven’t ever seen a gerenuk at a zoo. I wonder if any have them.

    Monkeys are creepy. Totally.

  4. Monkeys creep me out, too. I enjoy the zoo – except for the scents sometimes. My favorites are probably the bears and the elephants.

    Guess what day it is – funny stuff!

  5. >>What’s your favorite animal to stop in and see from time to time?
    My husband. I see a lot of him.
    The elephant pedicure freaked me out !

  6. Nice photos and memories of being a small child, looking a lot like Forrest Gump with braces on my legs, when the monkeys ALWAYS threw poo at Mum. They were Smart.
    Brother would grab my arm and drag me (like pull and the braces held my legs straight and he DRAGGED) away.

    It’s for this reason, I still give him my love.

    • When I was in high school, I once chaperoned a second-grade trip to the zoo. While we were there two monkeys started doing it. The second-graders were confused and then disgusted by it. We ushered them on pretty quickly.

      • Growing up on a ranch? I wouldn’t have blinked at that. Our critters never THREW poo, though. You might get splattered from a calf’s diarrhea, though!

  7. What a beautiful color on that camel! If I were a home designer I’d know the exact shade – light umber? They’re funny creatures. And if I remember right, more likely to spit than llamas. I don’t know this from experience. I completely agree with you about primates – creepy. The kids and their brain surgeon dad were way out of line teasing them. End of the day zoo staff have to deal with those animals and having them angry, stressed and worked up makes it much more dangerous to work with – bite induced hepatitis anyone?

    I remember seeing a kookaburra at one zoo. It was thrilling for a moment because I didn’t know this zoo had one. Then I suddenly felt depressed because I had always planned to travel to see my first one – they’re pretty common in Australia. But now I had seen one. In a pretty crappy cage, in the city. I think the ambition to travel to far lands and experience these animals in the wild is dampened by zoos, at least for me.

    At the zoo where I interned and at Flamingo Gardens in Florida was where I had by far the most thrilling experience; it was more of a sanctuary for injured birds with free-roaming wading and water birds. A roseate spoonbill nibbled on my fingers – I had never seen one and here it was hanging out with me in the gardens. Really neat.

    Beautiful photos, Steve!

    • Emmy — yes, I wonder if on hot, crowded days the animals get more stressed and need more “down time”. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I like going to the Zoo (or Safari Park, especially) on midwinter weekdays when very few people are there — no crowds, no lines, just hanging out with the animals. It’s much more serene than weekends and holidays.

      It’s funny that you mention how a zoo might dampen the interest in travel (I really don’t ever want to go to Africa, giraffes or no giraffes), but I wonder if the availability of so many High-def, high quality documentaries (Nature, Life On Earth, etc) make seeing “real” animals somehow disappointing.

  8. I like monkeys but chimps creep me out. They are way too human-like (especially when humans dress them up and make them do human things). The chimps in the Honolulu Zoo when I went were very very naughty. I’ll leave it at that but it creeped me out too and I’m glad some of it was only what I heard because what I saw of the one and the knothole was more than enough…

    • cranky — we didn’t go past them on this trip, but there’s a gorilla enclosure at the Zoo. The last time I was there, I walked past and all of them were sitting with their backs to the crowds so that they didn’t have to see the people. I think that’s what I would do, too. :-/

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