16 July 2014

I Break for Animals

Yesterday was the first birthday for Mei Lun and Mei Huan. Those of you who know me or read this blog at least a little are, therefore, unsurprised that I spent yesterday at the zoo.

The panda exhibit was crowded, as you might expect. With all the crowds and glare on the glass, I didn't get great pictures. But I did see a little of the birthday girls' shenanigans.
Who would expect it would be possible to wrestle in a tree?

Mei Huan demonstrates it is also possible to do yoga in a tree.

Mei Lun demonstrates how a panda can drape decoratively in a tree.

One of the docents -- Anne, I think -- was talking to some of the guests about the various animal Wild Encounters or VIP Pass experiences that can be purchased at the zoo. These are available at a variety of price points. One of the least expensive of the animal encounters is the Aldabra Tortoise Wild Encounter, at only $35, and even a little less for ZooAtlanta members. (In contrast, meeting a tiger will set you back $100, or for $150 you can meet gorillas or Yang Yang. Lun Lun and the twins will cost you $1000, or $900 for a zoo member. And, yes, I did pause to consider it.) Anne was telling the visitors how great the tortoise encounter is. For one thing, it is the only encounter where you go in the exhibit space with the animal. For another, you get to touch the animal!
And the tortoise doesn't just tolerate being touched, but he actually likes it! You can see how Shuffles stretches his neck up and leans in to my hand.

Even with a zoo full of people, I was the only person who showed up for the tortoise encounter. Tex and Corkie were cooling off in the corner mudhole, so I got to meet Shuffles. A big thank-you to Jessy, one of the zoo staff who kindly operated my camera and took lots of great pictures! Shuffles and Corkie are amongst the longest residents at ZooAtlanta, as they arrived in 1967. Of course, they were both in a smaller, easier-to-carry size back then. Today, Shuffles weighs 450 pounds! That's more than a panda or a Sumatran tiger.

The keeper -- Wade, I think -- kindly answered my questions about tortoises. And he told me all sorts of interesting facts about them. I had no idea how interesting and unusual they are.
For example, Wade explained how tortoises' shells can keep growing to accommodate the tortoise. He pointed out the scutes, and how they grow in a way that allows the shell to get bigger.

And, of course, I got to feed Shuffles. He ate slices of sweet potato.

When you see his mouth and tongue in action, you see how bird-like he is. Then you begin to understand why evidence is mounting that the great reptiles that were dinosaurs evolved into birds. Shuffles didn't chew his food -- just bite and swallow.

If you happen to be going to the zoo and can afford $35 per person for the encounter, I definitely recommend it! For children, the size of the tortoises will be even that much more impressive. I should also point out we are experiencing utterly perfect summer weather today and more is predicted for tomorrow.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Did you know that tortoises do not carry bacteria the way that turtles do? It means they make better pets for children! :) A friend of mine (who has a tortoise as a pet) told me that.