My Lovely Bride gave me a reprieve today, and let The Pack (all four of us) sleep in until 0800, quite a gift after yesterday’s early rev. We were able to give Rudy and Gretchen a long walk in the campground where we’re staying in The Bus; they were very happy, because it’s full of squirrels, and they got to tree 7 or 8 this morning before we left them for a few hours.
Then it was off to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is really a first class animal park for mostly African and Asian species. There are some rides, but mostly you go to see the birds and beasts in a pretty natural-looking habitat, considering we’re in Central Florida. (You have to ignore the Spanish moss hanging on the oak and palm trees and visualize that you are on an African savanna or veldt.)
Oh, before I forget, I have to recount the ticket taker… let’s call her Jennie… as we were checking in, Suzanne noted Jennie’s nametag, which also mentioned XYZ University. She very politely asked Jennie, “So, why are you here at Disney and not in school?”, thinking she may be at Disney on an internship. Jennie looked up with an incredibly bored Generation-Y (like, Gen-Y) expression and said, “Like, I graduated…” (Oh-Kay…. have a nice day, Jennie!)
Back to wildlife… I like birds, and this pair of roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), whom I named Ethel and Harvey, appear to be married. I think Harvey is a long-suffering soul who is being nagged by his wife Ethel about his playing golf instead of attending to the Honey-Do List that Ethel has been adding to daily for weeks…
One of my favorite stops was to see the Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri). This male probably weighed over 300 lbs and stood 5′ 9″ or so when erect. This first guy was one of my favorites. We watched him for about 15 minutes, and he seemed to change expressions to match some of the comments from the observers… I think at this point he was thinking, “I just don’t understand human behavior sometimes…”
Looking at a second fine specimen of the species, I mentioned to My Lovely Bride, “Isn’t it interesting that just a few strands of DNA separates me from that gorilla over there?” Her reply, “Yeah, very few strands…” It’s a good thing I’m not overly sensitive. I hope she wasn’t referring to the way I eat… now I think I understand how Harvey feels.
We met a neat guy, Jim, who works in Animal Kingdom. I think I asked him what part of the Rain Forest he was from, and he said, “Missouri.” We chatted, and it turns out that Jim was a long-time zoo trainer, and was asked by the famous zoologist Marlin Perkins (remember Wild Kingdom?) to work at the world-renowned St Louis Zoo as a sea lion trainer (Mr. Perkins was then Director of the St. Louis Zoo). After working there for many years, Jim relocated to the equally famous Chicago Zoo as Director of Training, retired a few years ago and moved south. I wish we had had the time to chat over dinner, because he must have had a wealth of stories that we would have really enjoyed. He also said that his wife likes his retirement job because it gets him out of the house for two days a week. (Maybe they know the Spoonbills?)
As we were walking through the Asia section of Animal Kingdom, we came upon this little 400 lb kitty up for adoption; you must have a (very) secure facility and the ability to provide appropriate veterinary care and about 40-50 lbs of fresh meat a day… and maybe a screw loose? (Have you ever wondered about the “wing-nuts” who keep “exotic” animals for pets?) Okay, this is really a Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), whose population is only about 2,500 cats, and he’s not really up for adoption… I believe he’s saying, “Whatchoolookinat, boy?“
Our safari ride through the African savanna was terrific; our favorites here were the zebras, lions, and giraffes. The zebra (Equus quagga) has a kick from his rear legs strong enough to break a lion’s jaw. These guys were hanging out in the trees, where they actually blended in very well… natural camouflage! Of note, zebras are actually black, with white stripes…
Speaking of lions (Panthera leo), these two beautiful lionesses were keeping an eye out for trouble while the male was sleeping. In a lion pride, the females do all the hunting, while the male (King of the Jungle, after all), comes along after the kill and gets the best parts of steak… (sounds pretty typical, doesn’t it, ladies?). (My Lovely Bride suggested that since this is a family blog, I should consider adding a fig leaf to cover up the identifying “parts” of the male in the center… okay, I considered it, and ….. naaaahhhh… after all, those lionesses look sort of bored with it….). 😉
Suzanne decided to skip the really cool bat house, so how about another bird? (Jan, this one’s for you!) Meet Twister, a female Northern Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus subarcticus). Twister is about 15 years old, weighs 3.5 lbs, and is a beauty. With a wingspan of over 4 feet, Twister has spectacular binocular vision and excellent hearing. She can twist her neck 270 degrees (since her eyes are fixed in their sockets, unlike human eyes). Her talons’ gripping power is almost as strong as that of an eagle. Diet: omnivorous: “Almost any living thing that flies, crawls, swims or walks is legitimate prey, except large mammals.”
Okay, last stop on our safari… giraffes! A half-dozen giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis), and very photogenic… they are amazingly graceful for their size; adults stand about 18-20 feet tall and weigh 1,800-3,500 lbs. A giraffe’s neck vertebrae have ball and socket joints, allowing them to tilt their heads vertically and reach higher branches with their long tongues.
Finally, one of the most endearing sights Friday was this young boy trying to catch soap bubbles… he’s about six years old, the age that my daughter Susan’s unborn son Liam would have been had they not died back in 2006. On this tragic day, let us say a prayer for the families who lost loved ones today, be thankful for the precious time we have with our children, and make the most of every minute to teach them the right way to live and love.