I had the most incredible experience on Thursday afternoon!
Our houseguest for the past 6 weeks, Rachel, is a veterinary student; she was in New Orleans to do an externship at the Audubon Zoo. Since her term was completed, she asked her supervisors at the zoo whether her mother and I could do a "behind the scenes" tour. Not only did we get to do the tour, we were guided by the Zoo's vet in his golf cart, got to feed giraffes, and got to pet rhinos!
There were four male giraffes, one only two years old. He's the one who splayed his legs so he could stick his head and neck through the enclosure's bars. I guess he thought that would give him a "shortness" advantage and enable him to get more treats. The giraffes' tongues were REALLY long! Their tongues are prehensile -- like monkeys' tails. The giraffe wraps its tongue around the food pellet (high in fiber, I might add!) and rolls the pellet up into its mouth. SO cool! They drool quite a bit and burp more than beer-drinkers at a Super Bowl party! Dr. Mercado, the vet, carried a bottle of hand sanitizer and paper towels for us to use after snack time. We were in a protected area because the giraffes might kick, but we really didn't have to worry about them kicking -- they were only interested in snacks and came over immediately when we entered the enclosure. They also lost interest in us and wandered away pretty quickly when the biscuit bowl emptied! Their eyelashes are beautiful -- so thick and long -- kind of like black whisk brooms and they're much taller up-close-and -personal than they appear from the viewing platform.
The rhinos were massive! They had come indoors to feed and were just kinda hanging out in their pen -- an old female, a young female and a male. Dr. Mercado was a little nervous that they might accidentally hurt us, but the keeper had us walk right up to them and let us stroke them. They were very docile -- not at all like they're portrayed in movies, although I really wouldn't want to tick one off! Their skin is very rough and craggy -- difficult to describe -- but the skin behind the young lady's ear was almost soft and smooth. That's how the keeper described it anyway -- I thought she needed quite a bit of lotion. Her horn was a good foot and a half long -- the keeper said he had to trim five inches off of it last year, and trimming it isn't easy. She had to be sedated and he used a power saw! Their eyes are tiny, relative to their overall bulk, and they follow your movements closely.
We also went to see the giant anteater and her week-old baby, clinging to the fur on her back. He'll ride on her back for nearly a year! No wonder she seemed rather agitated. The jaguar didn't take his eyes off of the golf cart -- we were told the big cats don't like the medical staff and they know that when that particular golf cart approaches, it's carrying medical staff. Wow. One of the orangutans is pregnant! She's due in July -- maybe the baby will share a birthday with Ronni! Our visit on Thursday turned out to be serendipitous -- the big male escaped from the habitat about the same time on Friday! (But, he apparently wasn't too crazy about his new-found freedom because he jumped back in about ten minutes later!) Check out the Times-Picayune article at http://www.nola.com/timespic/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-1/123338310650000.xml&coll=1.
What a treat! I wish the grandkids had been able to be there.