Alexandra Duncan

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism.

IN WHICH I GO TO THE ZOO

Jeremy and I were down in High Point for a friend's wedding this weekend, so we decided to stop in and visit the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.  I used to absolutely LOATHE the zoo, mainly because my parents would drag me there as a de facto babysitter for my younger siblings when I was a teenager.  There is nothing a thirteen-year-old girl could hate more than being frog-marched into several hundred acres of swelteringly hot, screaming child-ridden, no-we-won't-buy-you-a-bottled-water-for-$2.75-plagued zoological hellscape and being told to push a stroller around.  It doesn't help when said thirteen-year-old looks several years older than she is and keeps getting dirty looks from disapproving adults who think she's a teen mom.  Getting to see some giraffes doesn't make up for that kind of agony.  On one occasion during my Star Wars obsession phase, I spent our zoo visit pretending I was part of the Rebel Alliance and my parents were members of the evil Galactic Empire who had captured me and spirited me away to their secret zoo base in an attempt to torture information out of me.

But somewhere in the intervening years, I started loving the zoo.  I think it might have happened when my siblings were old enough to walk around the zoo under their own power, or possibly when I left for college and was no longer responsible for making sure they didn't fall into the seal tank and drown.  Since that time, I've been to the London Zoo and the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, and had the best time of my life.  Without anyone to babysit, I turn into a giant ten-year-old.  "Omigod, look at the polar bear! He has a bucket!", "The elephant is covered in mud!", "Look at the baby penguin!", "Aaaauuuggghh!  Lemurs!"  (Lemurs are so cute they rob me of the ability to form sentences.)
So I was excited to visit the North Carolina Zoo, which is notable for keeping large, comfortable habitats for its animals, and generally being a top-notch, professionally-run zoo.  We arrived at noon and spent the next five hours wandering the zoo's grounds.  Some of the animals were asleep, but not the sea lion, which was showing off and preening and generally being a great, big, sea-mammal-y prima donna.  The crocodiles were napping, the ocelot just stared at us, and the otter was a no-show, but the sea lion?  The sea lion was a great big showboat.  I'm surprised it wasn't carrying a boom box blasting the music from Fame as it swanned across the underwater viewing area, whiskers undulating luxuriously in the current.
Prima donna sea lion: Exhibit A.
 We started in the North America exhibit and trekked through several miles of path all the way to the Africa exhibit.
SCARLET IBIS!

RED RIVER HOG!

ZEBRA!

ELEPHANT!

I was most excited about the elephants.
Jeremy wanted to see the rhinoceroses, though.  They were supposedly in the same habitat as the elephants, but we couldn't find them anywhere.  We took the winding path along the side of the immense grassy fields where the elephants, antelope, and rhinos were kept, stopping at every view point along the way.  No rhinos.  Lots of antelope and faux termite mounds, but no rhinos.  Exhausted, we stopped, ate an apple, and discussed taking the shuttle back to the parking lot beside the North America exhibit (several miles of path away), where our car was parked.  But by the time we finished the apple, we thought, NO! We are going to see find the rhinos if it kills us.  High on fructose, we slogged uphill to the final lookout point beside the Africa pavilion, where the zoo had an exhibit on violets we'd been avoiding in favor of all the exotic wildlife napping in the shade.  And there. . .

RHINOCEROSES!

Mission accomplished.  We started back to the North America exhibit.  Unfortunately, we hadn't noticed on the way in that the path would be uphill all the way back, but we were so flush with success from our rhinoceros sighting that we didn't really mind.  (Not then, anyway.  My legs felt like they had stopped communicating with my brain around the time we got back to the car.)  We even got to see that showy sea lion on the way out.
Prima donna sea lion: Exhibit B.
So, lessons learned about the zoo: Sea lions are show-offs, apples will make you feel invincible, don't make your thirteen-year-old push the baby stroller, bring money for water, and finally, don't underestimate the zoo's power to win you back.

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