Friday, January 2, 2009

My Zoo Story

(one or two readers will note the nod to Edward Albee, but i digress)

I belong to a Flickr group called "Assignment Houston" and every month we have a photography assignment. I've missed quite a few fun ones in the last seven months when I was gone. This month's assignment is the Houston Zoo. They have two free days this month: New Year's Day and MLK Jr day. I'll be out of town on MLK Jr day, so New Year's Day it was. (The Houston Zoo, unlike the St. Louis Zoo, charges a hefty admission price, so while I'll probably still attend the group's meetup, I didn't want to necessarily have to pay the price twice, in case I didn't get what I wanted the first time.

I told myself I'd go when I woke up, and as it happened, I woke up at about 7:30am. So there I was, at the gate, at 8:45 am, with a handful of other people. We watched as a cheetah was calming walking around on a leash with some keepers and a zoo employee came over to chat with us. As it turned out, said zoo employee was actually the director of the Zoo. He chatted with us until his employees were ready to open the zoo. I thought that was really nice and thanked him for taking the time to chat with us.

I immediately headed over to the big cats area because these animals have almost always been asleep or sitting around when I've been by. Unfortunately, being at the zoo early means that not all the animals are out yet. So I had to be patient. After a little while, and after snapping some photos of the lion and lioness, I headed over to the monkey area after the tiger was being a no-show.

I walked around and took a few photos of various monkeys but then wanted to see if the tiger was up. He was and he was pacing like crazy. Unfortunately, this photographer is pretty short and its hard to shoot above the electric fencing. Lucky for me, he spent a lot of time pacing near a glass wall and I wandered over there and spent awhile trying to capture a good photo with as little reflection as possible - a challenge.

I eventually went back to the monkey area, hoping to see the sifakas. I happened across a zoo keeper, who offered to entice one of the sifakas out so I could take some pictures. She didn't have much luck, but the sifaka's regular keeper had much better luck. The female sifaka is pregnant and due any day, so she was a little reluctant to come out in the fresh chill of the morning. She came out for about 5 minutes and I got some great shots before she retreated to the warmth of her inside cage. I think it's safe to say that I was probably the only person who got to see the sifaka up close and personal until the keeper chat a few hours later. By that time, they were going to switch the sifakas out since the normally dominant female is crankier when she's pregnant and cannot co-exist with her male counterpart.

Speaking of 'rock star treatment', I also ended up chatting with a really nice zoo employee who actually turned out to be the Zoo president. It turns out that on the free days, and especially since this one was New Year's, some of the upper administration comes out and works alongside their peers. I mentioned to her (prior to knowing her position) that I was really impressed that the Zoo Director had come to the gate and chatted with us. After parting ways with her for the fourth time (she really did wander around and interact with the patrons of the Zoo), I thanked her for coming out and talking with all of us.

I wandered the rest of the zoo, getting a few snaps here and there. By this time, the masses had started to descend - more and more families, and screaming children. I did, however, meet this lovely couple who had 22 month old triplets. I started chatting with them when the father asked about the camera.

I really enjoyed my peaceful, idyllic visit. It was by far the best visit I've ever had at the Zoo and I look forward to going back some other time, early in the morning for a repeat experience. If I stick around Houston, perhaps a Zoo membership is order.

And now that I've gotten on with the chatty, here are some photos from my visit. As always, check Flickr for more!

Napping Post-Breakfast


Sifaka eating

Mother & Child

Bear & flower

Sea Lion Bubbles

Up Next: My New Year's Eve story

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