Where Am I?

Have you heard about Texas weather? When we told people we were moving here they said, “Well, clearly you aren’t moving for the weather, so why are you moving?!” It’s 8:30 pm, I have a sinus infection, Steve is on a plane hoping to get into Dallas/Fort Worth tonight from a biz trip. It is thundering, lightening and what I cannot reconcile is that it’s 92 degrees and HAILING! How is that even possible? How can it hail when it’s 92 degrees! Could it be 32 degrees High in the sky when it’s 92 down here?? (Notice I unconsciously capitalized high as if something supernatural is going on.)

I can hear the hail smashing against the the skylight in my kitchen. This is also tornado weather, something brand new to me. Tornados are a “warm weather event” I’ve been taught. Lovely. So I stay awake with my sinus infection, two dogs freaking out about thunder, my husband on a plane circling around, still trying to get my arms around what the hell is Texas….


Zoos Now-a-days

Let’s talk about zoos. In the old days many zoos were a nightmare for the animals. It causes me so much pain when I read or think about it that I can barely stand it.

All accredited zoos in the US are now conservation zoos overseen by AZA. (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Zoos no longer prioritize human entertainment over animal comfort but instead understanding, care and conservation of the species. We do not use operant conditioning (a fancy word for training) to entertain humans. We use it to train animals like chimps, gorillas, elephants and others to do body part presentations through mesh fencing for the sole purpose of being able to administer medical care without constantly anesthetizing the animals. When a keeper asks a chimp to open his mouth, show the bottom of his foot or put his ear up to the mesh, it is entertaining to the humans. But, that is not why they are taught to do it. Obviously, most zoos are for profit and humans pay for tickets and want to see animals so we make it as comfortable as possible for the animals to be in areas where the humans can see them, but the highly intelligent animals all live in habitats where they can distance themselves from humans if they choose to.

The adjunct priority in accredited zoos is the proliferation and prolongation of the endangered species in the wild (of which there are so, so many).  All breeding within the captive population of endangered animals is overseen and controlled by a very stringent organization called Species Survival Plan. They track DNA of every single captive individual within the endangered population and give permission, which they call “recommendations” for who can breed with whom. All zoos world-wide are in cahoots on this. It all has to do with genetics, bio-diversity and personalities of who will do well in captive habitats. Most zoo animals do great in captive environments because they were born in one. It is now illegal to take animals from the wild and put them in captivity and most who were have died off now. Keeping the captive population bio-diverse (ie, you don’t want cousins mating with cousins, etc.) is critical so that if the species goes extinct in the wild, our grandchildren can still see these animals and in some cases, zoos may have a chance to breed enough to get them back into the wild.  (Unlikely so please recycle and do what you can for conservation!)

Because of the strict AZA rules, animals in zoos today have it made. They have beautiful habitats, no predators, they are fed exactly what they need, they get treats, they have keepers who adore them, the get “enrichment activities” which is fun for them and makes use of their innate abilities and tendencies. Our chimps, for example have a beautiful, lush habitat with tons of space, no predators, all the food they need, indoor bedrooms with toys and fun things to do for nighttime and any medical care they might need. They love, play, yell, fight, make up and groom each other just like they would in the wild.

Social animals are insured they will not be alone as it is now illegal in an accredited zoo to have only one of a social animal. So if a zoo is down to one elephant, one gorilla, one chimp, etc. it either has to bring more in or send the one to another zoo so it can be with it’s own kind for companionship. Solitary animals (animals who are normally solitary in the wild, like every big cat except for lions) are kept solitary which is what they want and need.

Bottom line: Zoos now are really about the best interest of the animals.  When decisions are being made the first question always is, what is best for the animals?

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The buddies laughing and playing.


My Pet Peeve

“How many monkeys do you see in there?” a young woman asked her two year old at the zoo today.

We were at the Chimp habitat and I could see about 7 of them.

“Zero,” I said to myself in a whisper, “there are no monkeys in there.”

 

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Mishindi and his mother, Ramona

 


Love and Pain

I’ve been having trouble with my left shoulder and the pain got pretty bad. I’ve recently switched from tennis to pickle ball and in tennis I had a two handed back hand so naturally I continued to use that technique in pickle ball. The problem is the motion of a two handed back hand in pickle ball is much “tighter” than it is in tennis and it resulted in injury. I knew that is where the problem originated and I quickly learned a mean single-handed back hand but my shoulder still hurt and it has been hurting for a long time.

Finally, I went to a lovely Korean muscular therapist who explained that shoulders are very complex and injuries take a long time to heal. Her work was helping and she told me I should also consider doing acupuncture in addition to the work we were doing. So, I found a lovely Chinese woman with a PhD in Chinese medicine and acupuncture and saw her for the first time last week. It seemed to help a little so I went back today. Today seemed to help a LOT which is nice.

After my treatment as we were sitting at Julie’s desk scheduling my next appointment, I noticed a picture of her with a gorgeous golden retriever.

“Oh my god, your dog is beautiful!” I said.

“She was beautiful,” Julie replied, “and I adored her. I never had children so she was like my child.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“She got cancer, we tried everything, but we finally had to put her down,” she said as her eyes got red and watery.

“That is horrible,” I said, “I never had kids either and as an adult I have had to live through the death of three beloved dogs. Two of them golden’s.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Julie said.

She went on to describe the day she knew it was time to put Scarlett down. She talked about the vet coming to her house so Scarlett didn’t think they were going in the car to go to the park. She described how she got Scarlett up on her lap in a big bear hug and then allowed the vet to give her the shot. She described what it felt like to have Scarlett die in her arms. She said it was very peaceful but she and I were both sobbing. She grabbed a box of Kleenex….

“I’m so sorry to make you cry,” she said softly.

“It’s okay,” I said, “crying is okay.”

They say one of the most gut wrenching things in life is when a parent has to bury a child. The problem with being a dog parent is that you have to bury most of them.


Amazing

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Look at this Polar Bear Sculpture.  It is gigantic and it is completely made out of LEGO’S!!  The entire Lego Animal Sculpture exhibit is coming to the Dallas zoo this month.  So exciting.  If you are in Dallas, check it out.  If not, it is a traveling exhibit so check periodically with your city’s zoo!


Gorillas in the Rain

 

It was pouring rain and the only people at the zoo were the animals, the animal keepers and one volunteer. Guess which one. I love the zoo in the rain because there are no humans and the gorillas are out in their habitat as long as there is no lightening or heavy wind.

A gorilla’s existence in captivity at a place like the Dallas zoo where they are treated with the immense love and respect they deserve, is relatively simple. They don’t have to worry about predators (in the wild, man is their only one, but he is a formidable one), they don’t have to forage for food or look for water, their habitat doesn’t change much and in inclement (a word I never heard until I moved to Dallas!) weather they go inside their temp controlled bedrooms, so they are always very comfortable.

When something different happens, such as a downpour, it’s very novel to them and they take full advantage. It’s party time!

I was alone in the cave, which is usually bustling with zoo guests, with only three layers of treated glass separating me from the four male gorillas who live together in a bachelor group. I was between one and five feet away from them.

All four of them were bipedal which you will see from time to time with gorillas but because of their huge upper bodies, which are tremendously densely muscular, they are usually knuckle walkers. For those of you who don’t know, bipedal means walking like we do, upright on two back legs. I got the distinct impression that because their feet were so muddy, they didn’t also want muddy knuckles. Later, I checked with a gorilla keeper and confirmed that was exactly right. They didn’t want muddy knuckles! It’s amazing what your intuition can teach you when you observe an animal for hours every week.

In the rain the gorillas were dancing, laughing (yes, gorillas laugh), sliding around in the mud, chasing each other and imitating the rain by banging on their heads with their hands, all in a bipedal position. It was astounding.

I watched the gorillas in awe for three hours frolicking in the rain. I would burst out laughing and in the next second be close to tears. I knew I was seeing something very few people will ever have the honor of seeing in their entire lives.

 

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I Miss My Saguaros!!!

The landscaping thing in Texas couldn’t be more opposite than it was in Scottsdale. Here you see grass, flowers and huge trees; things we rarely saw back home. I miss the desert landscape with its rocks and boulders, little slow growing trees, prickery shrubbery and my beloved majestic saguaros.

Saguaro Cactus in Fountain Hills, near Phoenix, Arizona.

My Texas landscaper Tim came over to fix some problems with the irrigation in the back yard. We have some very pretty vines with beautiful pink flowers on them. Most of them look stunning while one of them is hideous. I know perfectionism is a losing battle but I’m having a hard time letting go when it comes to my house and my yard.

“My landscapers in Scottsdale spent a lot time trying to convince me that landscaping is not an exact science but what’s wrong with that one vine, Tim?” I asked from a comfortable chair on my patio.

“Exact science….” Tim repeated under his breath and chuckled.

“It’s odd,” he went on, “the soil around this healthy one was very dry, and the soil around that ugly one was wet.” I didn’t say anything.

“I wonder if there is a leak in the water line somewhere,” he continued as he messed around in the mud. I still didn’t say anything.

“I could try putting some fertilizer on it and we could see if that does anything,” he said as he pulled some weeds from around the base of the vine. I was silent.

“It may not get the same kind of sun as the others,” he said. I still didn’t say anything.

He finally looked up at me and said, “These comments are my way of saying I don’t know.”

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