Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Things to learn from the Zoo

Last week, Sapphire, Uncle Robbie and I visited the Melbourne Zoo. After getting over the entrance prices and the costs of sandwiches and icecreams, I then eased into enjoying the stroll around on a warm sunny day and seeing each and every animal on display. It made me realise that despite the ever-present pong of poo in the air these creatures have a great deal to teach us.

For instance, the white-cheeked gibbons. (By 'cheeked' they mean the face, not the butt). Mr Gibbon was hanging from the topmost branch by one arm which, extended, was twice as long as his body. He languidly hung in front of us - by just two fingers - for the entire time we stood in front him and appeared to be as interested in staring at us as we were in staring at him. I'm not promoting the idea that we adult humans should try hanging from a tree branch by just one arm (if you've ever tried to have a go at the monkey bars at your child's school, you'll appreciate that every single muscle down the side of your body will immediately snap like the elastic around Kirstie Alley's fat pants); but that we should at least take some time out to relax. Enjoy the scenery. Take an interest.

The elephants reminded me of dairy cows. The male and female both waited patiently at the entrance of their huge 'run', near their warehouse-sized evening shelter. Would they be changing the gates across the pathway so that the elephants could walk to their swimming pool? Would the keepers be transferring them to their walkway so that they could do a lap of the replica Indonesian village? Nah. Instead, they were each handed a small, leafy branch which they both happily took away with them to chew with obvious enjoyment. Right: it can be the very simple things that can make you happy.

Over at a considerably more odorous enclosure the pgymy hippopotamus was basking in the sun, yet also partially submerged in her pond. The water was dark green, cloudy and very smelly as they apparently do 'everything' in it. Yet she looked the picture of contentment and completely oblivious to the chattering school kids studying her through the glass. It looked like a squalid swamp to me, but she was obviously enjoying being home.

Two seals, on the other hand, were far more active, swimming graceful laps of their pool. Upside down. At the end of their individual laps, they'd float peacefully up to the surface before frolicking together. Then they'd climb on to the bank and sun themselves. You'd have to be very hard-hearted not to admire their beautiful large eyes, sleek fur and cat-like whiskers. Two seconds later, they'd slip into the water and go through the entire process again. They were loving just being themselves.

My favourite animals have always been the meerkats, and we spent at least half an hour observing their entertaining activities. One was on sentry duty and the others were continuously digging to find the hard-boiled eggs hidden in the sand by the keepers. Even when a meerkat had found an egg, he'd put it aside and keep on digging or scamper off and find a new spot to dig in. As our visit with them approached thirty minutes, a second meerkat stood on its hind legs in the sentry position. The original sentry immediately noticed this, and dropped down into digging mode. I'll make no apologies for making these little creatures far wiser than they really are by applying a couple of observations to them:
1) Keep an eye out for your family; 2)Take turns to help out; and 3) Eat to live, don't live to eat

No friends of meerkats, the tiger was at first very difficult to spot in her jungle-like enclosure. Then we saw her at the back, impatiently pacing back and forth along the farthest fence behind the bamboo. My first reaction was to feel sorry for a wild animal that was bored and frustrated until I read the sign that told us she was 'pacing with excitement because she is aware that the new male from xxx zoo had arrived in the neighbouring enclosure.' Aww, bless her young heart: Keep the thrill of romance alive (in any way you can).

It was time to have an icecream and get out of the sun, so the nocturnal/amphibian exhibits seemed like a good idea. The green tree frogs were still, quiet and cool. Pretty well what we should all try to be really.

Over at the 'Rice Paddy Field' exhibit, we saw two birds called stilts. They stood together side-by-side and both were standing on one leg. Just before we all started to wonder if they'd both been victims of a marauding rice paddy pirahna, one lowered it's second leg. Then the other bird did. Two seconds later however, they were both standing on one leg again. Was it a competition to see who could stand on one leg the longest? Whatever the reason, it's always good to have a spare. (A spare anything).

On our way out, we spied the Nepalese red panda. A rather gorgeous creature that looked like an adorable combination of a fox, teddy bear and a cat, it gave a huge wide yawn and did two huge 'salute to the sun' and 'downward facing dog' stretches to ease itself awake. It's 'morning ritual' was most luxurious and entertaining to watch and reminded me that most of us do not take the time to enjoy your sleep and also to take your time in waking up properly.

What visit to the zoo would be complete without the babboons? Whether us parents like it or not, every child is going to have a good old giggle at their bright pink butts, and our visit was no exception. Once the cackling school kids on excursion had moved on, we three stood behind the glass for a closer look. Most of them were bright pink, but the dominant male's was a kaleidoscope of pinks, purples and blues. He was clearly an old pro at this zoo caper because, like the gibbon, he sat there and stared straight back at us. His final gesture was a classic - he turned around to give us a beautiful view of his butt and then pressed it up against the glass before walking off in a rather surprisingly dignified manner. Uncle Robbie thought that the only lesson we could possibly learn here was: You may think you call the shots, but you can kiss my arse.

I then told him off for swearing in front of Sapphire.

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