Friday, July 19, 2013

Theory 9: The more a zoo advertises a critter, the less likely visitors are to see it.

It’s summer and I’m a public school teacher, so I entertain Sharky and the Gnome on a dime. Luckily, we live close to the Great Smoky Mountains and The University of Tennessee—budget friendly attractions. But, when my beautiful, sweet niece E came to visit for a week from our state’s capital, I had to step up my game. I took them trudging through my Appalachian home place—The Crippled Beagle Farm, we caught lightening bugs in our front yard, and we bowled at The University of Tennessee’s student center. But E had souvenir money from her dog sitting business to burn, so I had to find a gift shop before she returned to Nashville! Where is a great place to see stuff and spend money? The zoo!
I’ll begin by promising you readers that I LOVE the Knoxville Zoo. I’ve gone to several animal themed parks, petting exhibits, fairs, and zoos in my life but The Knoxville Zoo reigns supreme! It’s clean, convenient, well-managed, and the animals enjoy considerable habitat space. “Habitat” is what you call cages and pens with synthetic rocks and fake tropical waterfalls to convince the animals that they are in Thailand, not Tennessee.
The worst thing I ever saw at the Knoxville Zoo was a 50 pound Aldabran Tortoise stuck on his side. He just paddled away, with no friction to save his balance. His scaly claws fought for naught. But, within moments, a zoo employee rescued him by carefully setting him upright. The second worst thing I ever saw at the zoo was when Sharky, then age 4, escaped his rented stroller (which, by the way, are the best strollers ever because they are light, simple, and low enough for a child to step into and out of by himself, thus saving my aching back). Why can’t regular folks buy those? They are almost as handy as the church’s highchairs.  Anyway, unfortunately, Sharky could also unbuckle himself.  I said something like, “Let’s go see the lions!” and he furiously unsnapped his safety belt and zoomed like a bullet down the path. But, he tripped, went airborne, and soared into a mound of black dusty mulch. He was a Southern Ground Hornbill!
The best thing I’ve ever seen at the Knoxville Zoo is old Tonka, who is still there, and has been since my 1980’s childhood (thus the name Tonka, as in Tonka Tough trucks). He’s an African elephant and I can count on seeing him. The second best thing about the Knoxville Zoo is Dippin' Dots, the world’s coldest ice cream. It really doesn’t matter what month it is when you go to the zoo, you will be hot. Basically, you tromp around a 50+ acre hilly farm and, when you tell me I’m in Africa or I see that Brazilian Rainbow Boa glassed in a humid box,  the power of suggestion just gives me hot flashes and I need cooling off with some Cookies-n-Cream. Just like when I gaze at the Toco Toucan I crave Fruit Loops and a Margarita.
All that being said, I have a theory about zoos in general. The more the zoo advertises a critter, the less likely visitors are to see it. The zoo is a unique experience.
I once heard a Fox News anchor say something like, “Why do people keep making Pandas have more Pandas?” I can tell you why, Brian. Supply for demand. Zoos advertise exotic visitors (animals they rent or borrow from other zoos) to ramp up visitation, but most folks just hear the ad or see the billboard in passing and think the animals have made a home in the local habitat. Not so. How many of you have been lured into the zoo, to the tune of $19.95 for adults and $17.95 for children over the age of 2 to see a critter from another part of the world, only to spend, sweat, and see this:

Of course!

So off E, Sharky, the Gnome, and I went to the zoo. E is not a fan of hot uphill hiking, but when I told her about the White Alligator and gift shop, she grabbed her iPod Touch (camera) and spending money! We saw black bears recline, penguins waddle, and Tonka scoop water with his trunk. We looked through a huge habitat for the Western lowland gorillas, but found only one. Another large gorilla rested inside a concrete structure. Sharky didn’t like that environment and said, “He is miserable.” 

I said, “He is fine. Maybe he just likes being in the shade.”

Sharky argued, “Really? Check out the look on his face.”

I’m no Jane Goodall, but Sharky had a point. Sometimes I think animals are smarter than humans. They don't trip. They don’t argue with nature. They lie in the shade and refresh themselves with water. We eat hot nachos and hoof it up hills. We gawk. They yawn. Who is watching whom here? I’ve never heard a lion roar, but I’m sure those lions have heard plenty of mamas yell.

As my little wards gazed upon the grasslands zebras, E (very much a girl) squished up her face and asked, “Aunt Bug, can we go to another part of the zoo. It stinks over here. Ewww, what is that smell?”

Tired, I explained, “Zebra sht.”

We migrated over to the baboon cage. Again, “Aunt Bug, it stinks over here, too! What is that smell?”
“E, that’s Baboon sht.”  FYI - Teachers aren’t the most patient summer babysitters.
Two hours, two fruit slushies, and two plastic animal toys in, Sharky said, “Let’s go to the other side.”
E almost cried, “There’s another side?”
“Yes! We have to go see the White Alligator! I heard about it on the news!” 
I was hot and tired, too, but I wanted to get the best bang for my buck, especially since that money should have gone toward the light bill, and was determined that my brood would see every caged critter. E and I rallied when we saw the Dippin’ Dots stand and took a much needed break. Ahhh. Cool, refreshing, summertime ice cream. I could never eat meat at the zoo.  Who could eat chicken nuggets while watching a bird show? Delicious hasn’t eat a hamburger since the time she pattied out ground beef and looked out her kitchen window to see a cow, fifteen feet away, make its own patty.
Restored by our freezing cold sweet treat, we set out to see the White Alligator on the far side of the 56 acre zoo. Halfway there, E, who was pushing Sharky in the awesome stroller, stopped and gasped, “Oh my gosh Aunt Bug, what time is it?”
I said, “3:30. Why?”
She said, “Oh no! I am missing a show I really wanted to watch.”
I asked, “What show?”
She said, “It’s a show about wild animals on Nickelodeon.”
What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?
I said, “E! There’s a rhino forty feet from you and a Red Panda right beside you!” I later laughed with Delicous about the exchange and she said E was onto something—air conditioning and good editing: she could snack in comfort and be guaranteed a quality animal performance. TV shows feature active animals, not yawners.
Some critters did perform for us. The Gnome hooted as he watched North American River Otters through a glass wall dive, flip, and splash.  And you can always count on lemurs. No matter where I go, if animals are on display, lemurs abound. Aren’t they like rodents? Teachers are always hustling for extra money. Maybe I should start a lemur breeding business.

Zoo babies and friend

Off we went to the petting zoo to brush fat goats. Then to Kids Cove, a sweet little artificial creek bed where Gnomes can mimic their new river otter friends as their worn out mamas can rest in rocking chairs. The playground looked spotless, but when I saw goat-brushing, breast-feeding, nacho eating, and a sign reading “Children who are not potty-trained must wear swim diapers” in one panoramic view, I got a little grossed out.  I packed up my crew and said, “Let’s see this White Alligator and head home.”
Another short hike to see the highly advertised and regarded gator. But guess what? He wasn’t there! I asked an attendant who explained, “We just sent him to another zoo up north.”
Uh-huh. Sure you did.
On the way home, I asked the Gnome, who appeared to have a blast throughout the day, “What was your faaaaaavorite animal at the zoo today?”
With certainty and excitement, he announced, “The whale!”
Really? I paid $17.95 for him to imaginarily see the most impossible animal to contain in a zoo? Next time, we’re going to PetSmart to “see” a whale. It’s much cheaper and I can pick up dog food while I’m there.
As I sat in my den typing up this post a few days ago, I yelled to Tall Child, "What do you think about the zoo?”
He answered, “I don’t.” 
What’s his problem? He is missing out on a great workout, first-hand experience with exotic creatures, goat-brushing, lemurs, imaginary 300,000 pound whales, and Dippin’ Dots!
FYI: The  Atlanta Zoo has twin Panda cubs right now.  Aaaaaallegedly.

Uh Huh

Speaking of exotic creatures and blow holes, school starts for many teachers next week. Which brings me to Theory 10: Teachers are the most entertaining people on the planet.
See you next post! Until then, think outside the barn.
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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...