Saturday, August 23, 2008

Zoo Friday

You can't hiiiiide your... [*]

We continued our summer "fake-cation" Fridays yesterday with a trip to the San Francisco Zoo with our dear friend Lucile. (Lucile has a membership in the Zoo, so we had free admission and parking under her auspices -- thanks, 'Cile!)

I have been a frequent visitor to the San Francisco Zoo since 1973, when I first was hired as a part-time astronomy instructor at City College of San Francisco. My sons became very familiar with the place as little boys, since it was a great (if obvious) place for a divorced dad to take his sons on a weekend. Toward the end of my tenure at CCSF (1989), many of my former students were working at the Zoo in various capacities -- just as I could find many former students all over the city in other occupations -- and I could count on cheerful greetings from young staffers on every visit. After taking my current position at DeAnza College, forty-five minutes away from San Francisco, my visits became less frequent, but didn't fall to zero by any means.

Malibu Stork (No, he's not really impaling himself. Lucile, a longtime, avid birder, tells me he's molting and grooming. Me, I think he's checking his wallet.)

The zoo has had a hard time in recent years, with scandal, management issues, construction, and a horrible tragedy last Christmas day. (No links here, because that's not what this entry is about, but Google stands ready to assist you if you're curious.) A quick check of the Zoo's website before we left prepared us for the closure of some of its prime attractions, which are undergoing significant renovations: we expected to see no elephants, or small cats, or big cats. Right on two counts, happily wrong on the third.

Stumped Gorilla

The Zoo's parking lot is on its west side, close to the ocean, and adjacent to the huge derelict remains of the Fleishhacker Pool. The first section after the entrance is a relatively-newly remodeled, very attractive area called the "African Savanna," and, adjacent to that is the gorilla preserve.

Black Lemur

At left, a ringtailed lemur idly looks up at a big ape on a walkway above him. At right, a Koala rests on a eucalyptus stump. The Lemur compound is a fascinating array of open spaces, jungle areas, heat-lamp warmed elevated platforms,
and a maze of enclosed, lemur-sized walkways leading from one part of the compound to another through, over, under, and around the elevated walkways for humans.

The elephant area is closed. In fact, right now the zoo has no elephants, and the Pachyderm palace is undergoing major renovation. The buildings for the elephants and big cats are at the geographic heart of the zoo, as befits zoos' traditional main attractions, and having both of those areas closed down made for an odd, almost decayed aura at the zoo's center. We walked quickly through there, heading for the bears' area at the park's east end.

We were in for a treat at the bears, because none of us had seen the new Grizzly compound before. It appears to be a fine place for the sisters Kiona and Kachina to inhabit: plenty of open space, plenty of things to occupy their attention. They were very active when we visited: much running and cavorting.

Running bear, sans white dove. These two bear photos were taken through a thick plexiglass window which didn't play nicely with my lens's polarizing filter.

As we walked back westward toward the exit, we passed by the closed hippo section (at right -- the hippo is a sculpture, not a leftover) and passed the big cats' house, where we expected to see no occupants. But, as evidenced at left, there was a tiger out in his compound. (Click on these, or any other pictures, to see larger versions.) He entertained us for a while, even playing with a yard-wide blue ball. The photo at left was taken through a chain-link fence, which is why it has that odd overlay pattern, and none of my other pictures of him came out very well, either. We continued westward, and came on this:

Lions through Plexiglass

Three summers ago, on a trip with Doug and Adrianne and Grace, we paused at this compound to admire the lions. At left is a picture from that visit; Grace is the little kid in blue in the stroller. All of the remaining pictures from this place were taken from behind that window, from roughly in its center.

I know he's probably checking the air currents for scents, but it really, really looks like he's posing in this shot and the next two...

... and the state of his mane emphasizes that impression. Diane and Lucile both remarked that it looked like it had at least been carefully brushed, if not shampooed and blow-dried.

Right Profile.

After he had enough of posing, he took direct notice of us behind the window, and very purposefully marched over to investigate us.

Lion's Arrival. I don't know what this fellow's name is, but, for some reason, "Mojo" sounds like it might be an appropriate one for him.

Looking at Lucile, who was to my left.

Looking at me.

A goodly crowd had arrived by the time the last picture was taken, and, until then, my only view of His Highness had been through the viewfinder of my camera. I pulled the camera down from my face... and damn' near had a heart attack. I was not at all prepared for the visceral, overwhelming feeling that seeing a real lion riveting me with his stare from inches away would engender. I don't mind saying that it was a primal fear; reason had nothing to do with it. Diane, bless her black, shriveled heart, is still ridiculing me for...

... basically running away. I didn't run away, dammit, I was just going back to get this establishing shot of the lion and the crowd! Story. Sticking to it.

Much later, when we arrived back at Ft. Harrington and greeted all the critters in our zoo, it struck me that this was the only time, ever, that I looked at Cooper (right) and thought that he looked small.

Addendum: Many photos from this outing are available at much higher resolution over on Flickr. To see high-resolution versions there, you need to click on the image you want and then click on the magnifying glass icon over the image that appears then. You'll be given several options after that; choose the highest-resolution you can stand.

[*] ... lyin' eyes. But you knew that.



Mike said...

Fab photos, as often is the case.

My own close encounter with a lion at the zoo was quite the opposite. The opposite end. He walked up to the bars, turned his back and ... sprayed.

My boys, who were in about preschool and 2nd grade at the time and at a prime age for a certain style of humor, fell apart on the spot and the dogs were quite fascinated with my jacket when I came home, even though my dogs of the time were sheepdogs. I don't think you need to be a Rhodesian ridgeback to find that smell fascinating.

I'd say the Plexiglas is probably an improvement over bars. Also, that end of the lion is to be preferred, as long as some sort of barrier is separating you.

Good shot. Don't tell anyone else it was a zoo, or about the glass.

Dann said...

Or the....erm...backing up for the wider shot of the crowd.

Great stuff as always, Sherwood.


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Certainly great photos and great narration! Your comment about the chain link fence creating a pattern overlay on the photo had me saying "Huh?" until i looked a second time. I had to adjust my brain to see it, kind of like when i view those "magic eye" pictures.

And, Mike, just thanks a lot. Now i have to somehow get through the next Narnia movie without the intrusion of this mental image.

ronnie said...

Wow. Amazing photos and amazing story.

And I don't believe for a second that lion wasn't posing. I'm firmly convinced that while we falsely anthropomorphize animals all the time, big cats in zoos revel in the attention. (Yes, Mojo is a fine name for that fellow, I think.)

And I know exactly what you mean about that primal, terrified reaction to coming face-to-face with an animal which could effortlessly eviscerate you... I had the same reaction when the late, great Tomar ambled over and inspected us from the other side of a chain-link fence in Moncton... tightness in the throat and your blood literallly seems to go cold!

Uncle Jed said...

Thank you Sherwood!

While stationed on Treasure Island, I had a wonderful date first thing Saturday morning at the zoo.

Civilians really haven't caught on to the 6am date, but it is the finest time to be at the zoo.

As we toured, it seemed some creatures were taking their time starting the day. A running joke developed about these being hung-over from a big party the night before. Others were somewhat active (the tee-totalers) or downright rambunctious...clearly they have been partying all night long.

The punchline came when we arrived at the polar bear exhibit. See, you can't give a polar bear a beachball, so the environment was enriched with items equally entertaining, yet indestructible...floating in the pool were 3 empty beer kegs.

Comedy gold.

I should say comedy silver, as this was my second most fun trip to the zoo. I don't know how to hyperlink to the above story about Dad getting peed on by a lion...

Sherwood Harrington said...

Hi, Jed! Nice to see you here.

Treasure Island must have been pretty tough duty, eh? I don't know exactly when you were stationed there, but I figure you're about the same age as my son, so that would have put your time there sometime toward the end of the Naval Base's tenure on the island -- late '80's, early '90's.

At that time, an early morning date at the SF zoo would have been not only cool, but cheap, too. One of the reasons I went there so often in the '70's and '80's was that it was free!

Not so cheap any more -- parking alone is $8 now.

And, hey, your dad's story about getting pissed on by a big cat can be trumped here: I got shit on by a tiger once, but that's a story for another time.