Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Zoo road trip

I just got back from a great little road trip that made my forced week off in (eye roll) early February completely worthwhile! My coworker Meghan has a friend at Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana where they have baby jaguars. I have some friends at Indianapolis Zoo who work with two new baby giraffes. Meghan and I decided to visit both. It was a lot of driving, but a blast!

We left for Evansville at 6am Tuesday and arrived around 11am. Meghan's friend Loretta showed us around their amazing new Amazonia exhibit, including behind the scenes. It is a huge indoor area with monkeys, birds, fish, caiman, lots of small mammals and inverts and a mama and two baby jaguars. The babies tore around climbing trees, play fighting and jumping on mom. We then toured the rest of the zoo which included a trip to the camel barn to play with a baby Bactrian, a visit with a clouded leopard and a serval and a peek at a baby colobus monkey. Loretta had to get back to work so we checked out the lions and tigers and rhino and hippo and many other animals on our own. Then we had to go back to Amazonia to say goodbye to the jaguar cubs. If we had lion or tiger cubs at our zoo I don't think I could get any work done. I would be watching them all day!

We left the zoo at 3 and were starving! Meghan suggested Bar Louie, which was a great choice because their special was mac and cheese. Mmmmmmm. It was close to our hotel so we checked in and relaxed and watched a marathon of some reality show involving a scary-looking team of car repo-men (and terrifying woman.) Entertainment at its best! Loretta saved us from brain mush by picking us up at 8 and taking us to a restaurant to meet some of her coworkers. It was a blast swapping zoo stories and it's always good to reinforce that the same crazy stuff goes on everywhere, not just our zoo. I had a sandwich on a pretzel roll that was strange, but excellent. We got back to the hotel at (gasp) 10pm and I crashed.

We left for Indianapolis around 7:30am. My AAA directions were either wrong or else I copied them wrong. (My printer was out of ink so I hand copied.) My paper said 53 miles, but it was actually 93 miles before we got onto the highway that took us to Indy. I was a bit nervous for 40 miles, but everything was fine and we arrived in Indy around 11:30 with the time change. Susanne, Laura and Holly met us shortly after our arrival and we all went to lunch at a great little place with excellent club sandwiches. Again, it was fun talking to a group of keepers. When we got back to the zoo, Susanne and Laura took us to see the baby giraffes. They are full brothers to our zoo's two giraffes, so it was especially exciting. One was 5 months old and the other only 1 month old. Giraffes are born with their horns folded down and inward so they pass easier through the birth canal. The little baby's horns were still folded. It was stinking cute! We checked out the rhinos and addra gazelle in the rest of the barn and then were handed off to Holly. She took us to see the baboons and lions she regularly works with and then showed us the new cheetah exhibit opening later this spring. Then, as a surprise, she took us to the elephant barn where a rare play session with their two baby elephants was in progress. It was the cutest thing ever to watch two dinky elephants charging around, chasing each other, climbing on each other, pushing each other to the ground and then teaming up to steal hay from the adults housed around their play pens. We watched some training sessions with a couple of the adult elephants and then got to go inside one of the pens and pet one of the adult females. I've done it before, but it never stops being amazing to be standing next to a 9 foot elephant! I thought rhinos were big, but they are tiny compared to elephants! Extremely cool.

The zoo closed at 4 and it was now 3:30. Meghan and I rushed around the rest of the zoo and saw as much as we could. We were disappointed the walruses (including the one featured on Animal Planet's Growing up Walrus) weren't out on display, but we got to see penguins and polar bears and play in the shark touch pool. We didn't linger (though it was hard to not stop for a long time at the dolphins) and managed to get a quick glimpse at most of the animals that were on display outside or inside buildings. We left right at 4 but it was really 3 our time so we got home a little after 6:30pm. Phew! A lot of driving, but totally worth it.

The whole trip made me realize how lucky I am to be a zookeeper. The perks are just unbelievable! It's beyond cool to do a tiny bit of networking with other keepers and then they are completely thrilled to show off their zoo and take you places the general public never gets to see. What a fun, fun trip! (And yes, I know I need to figure out how to better edit my photos!)

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