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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.