At the zoo, I’m a little kid again

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FROM JASON’S SAFARI — Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it’s true.

The monkeys stand for honesty,
Giraffes are insincere,
And the elephants are kindly but
They’re dumb.
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages,
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.

Zebras are reactionaries,
Antelopes are missionaries,
Pigeons plot in secrecy,
And hamsters turn on frequently.
What a gas! you gotta come and see
At the zoo.

A favorite song.

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I’m a sucker for the zoo, but I have a tendency to lecture.

“That’s not a monkey, Kim,” I corrected my sister-in-law today at the Cleveland MetroParks Zoo as she marveled at an orangutan. “Monkeys have prehensile tails, while apes are adapted to living on the ground rather than in trees and typically have legs and backs longer than their legs. Apes are universally more intelligent than monkeys, able to use very basic symbolic language and even devise tools.”

I got an icy look.

I can’t help it. I grew up on National Geographic World magazine, watching lots of the society’s television specials (narrated by B.J. Honneycut from M*A*S*H). My grandmother bought me ZooBooks — which I fawned over for years — and family trips to the zoo were common when I was young.

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My wife and I have made a hobby of zoo-hopping, too. We frequent the Cleveland zoo about twice a year, and also hit up the Columbus, Toledo, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis zoos. I’m looking to add Cincinnati, Akron, and Pittsburgh to the regional ones we hit pretty soon.

When we get inside, I become a dweeb. One of my earliest memories is visiting the Philadelphia Zoo (all I can remember is one particular goat), and elementary school trips always seemed to land me at Ross Park Zoo in New York. When my family moved to Watertown, N.Y., there was a (small-ish) zoo in the city park about 10 blocks from my house.

I’ve paid attention during every visit. I know things. And I can’t shut up about the polar bears, the dwarf crocodiles, red pandas, wallabies, fennec foxes, agouti, eastern hellbenders, Australian lungfish, marmosets….

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It was packed as Memorial Day crowds surged in, and we were on a schedule because my brother-in-law-to-be had to pull a late-night shift. So we zipped by quite a few of the attractions, while other exhibits were closed (the entire pachyderm building!) for reconstruction. No elephants and hippos today, friends.

The wife wouldn’t even let me tour the animatronic dinosaur walk. I was upset.

Oh well. There will be a next time, as Cleveland is 25 minutes away. And if just the wife and I hoof it alone, there will be time for more zoo picture-taking — a hobby I’ve indulged in for about five years now.

There was still time today to learn a thing or two, though.

Things I learned today at the zoo:

  • The Masai giraffe is the world’s largest land mammal, and can run at speeds in excess of 35 mph.
  • The zoo’s Iranian leopard was a performer for Jack Hannah and appeared many times as a cub on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with David Letterman.
  • Andean condors are the world’s longest-lived birds, sometimes surviving up to 50 years.
  • There are fewer than 3,000 black rhinoceroses in the wild.
  • Western lowland gorillas are afraid to cross even the shallowest streams, and so their territories are typically carved more by geography than anything.
  • Brazilian ocelots can be tamed, but have a sticky, extremely smelly urine that makes keeping them as pets extremely difficult.
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