I love going to the zoo. I know these days, that's not a very PC-admission, but I don't care. Zoos play a crucial role in education and conservation. They've undergone great changes in management and design that have resulted in better lives for the animals.
I don't get to go to the zoo that often anymore. Fota Wildlife Park is a bit over an hour's drive from our house and I've been there twice when we've had guests of the child variety.
This summer, I went to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo with Middle Brother and The Kid. They have a family membership, so they go to the zoo quite frequently. It wasn't even our first joint visit to the zoo. But it was the first summer time visit since The Kid was a tadpole.
Our plan of attack was simple - arrive at or before 10am to hotfoot it over to the Australian part of the zoo so we could feed the Rainbow Lorikeets. For the bargain price of $1, you can buy a tiny medicine cup that's about half-full of nectar. Then you go into the Lorikeet house, a mini-jungle where the birds fly free and unfettered.
It's essential to get there early so that the birds are still hungry. Otherwise, you just stand there like a dolt with your little medicine cup of nectar. But when the birds are hungry, it's a riot of green, yellow, and red. If you're very lucky and stand very still, the birds will land on you. I still get crazily excited to have a bird land on my hand.
The first time we took The Kid into the Rainbow Lorikeets, he was a very little guy and got a bit freaked out by the forwardness of the birds. Now, he's a junior scientist and is fascinated by and curious about everything. He listened to a spiel from one of the docents, and then asked how you know if a bird is a boy or a girl.
The docent explained that you would have to look into the cloaca to find out. Middle Brother, in what I thought was a genius move of comic timing, said "Yeah....we're not going to do that today." I later found out that he wasn't trying to be funny, he'd seen the look on The Kid's face and was heading off what he saw as an inevitable request to try it out.
After feeding the birds, we went to explore the rest of Australia land. We took turns going down the giant crazy tree slide and visited the donkeys and sheep in the petting farm. Then we passed the camel rides and it was decided, since it was a special zoo day (given that Auntie Ann was visiting) that a camel ride was in order.
A hand-printed sign in the ticket window read "Maximum weight per camel: 300 pounds." MB told me that he needed to be with The Kid, so I'd have to go alone. When we got to the camel loading zone, the guy told us we could all fit on one camel. I was flattered that the guy thought we were so svelte but MB told me later that he suspected the guys just didn't want to walk around two camels. (I preferred my explanation.)
The guy directed MB to get on first, then me, then The Kid. MB asked me to make sure I held onto The Kid, which I did like we were lost at sea on a flimsy lifeboat. The camel dutifully trod around the dusty track.
Getting on a camel is a lot easier than getting off a camel, but The Kid handled it like a champ. I was a lot less graceful and assured, but managed to haul myself back onto the loading platform.
After a brief stop for soft pretzels and slushies, it was time to feed the sharks and sting rays. Feeding the sting rays is completely unnerving. You take a bit of herring or some other smallish fish and hold it between your first two fingers. You put your hand into the water, palm facing up, so the fish is sticking up out of your hand. Then you wait for the sting ray to glide over your hand and suck up the fish. The sting rays were not as hungry as the Rainbow Lorikeets.
We had lunch at the new zoo food court. (Well, it's new to me, at least.) The Kid and I both ordered Happy Meals. After we were done eating, The Kid spent a lot of time playing with both the Happy Meal toys, identical Bumblebee Transformers. MB and I both found it interesting that the toys earned double the amount of attention and time from The Kid, even though they were exactly the same.
It was a good trip to the zoo. It's nice to remember an adventure on a warm, sunny day when it's currently a dark, cold, wet winter's day.