zembla goes south, part 4: the san diego zoo


(Read Part 1 2 3)

On Monday, I visited the world-famous San Diego Zoo in world-famous San Diego, California. Usually I try to tie together my jokes and humorous observations, but I feel that the sheer number and variety of these wonderful animals necessitates a less holistic format for this particular installment. Much like visiting the zoo itself, readers can read the different portions in any order they choose. As a warning, there's very little about birds, because watching them kind of freaks me out. I think it's because of the herky-jerky head movement. And the similarity to dinosaurs.

- We started at the Reptile House, and learned that contrary to popular belief, giant snakes are not evil, just poisonous. Still, there was a sign asking, "Giant Snakes: Myth, Monster, Or...?" which leads me to believe that the San Diego Zoo itself may not be entirely convinced of this.

The Reptile House is also home to the albino snake, which appears to be the CEO of the House, as it has the corner office. false water cobra, which is not poisonous. It succeeds by looking just like other snakes that do have venom. Basically, the false water cobra is to posionous snakes as Bush is/was to grunge music.

- Our next destination was the pen of a monitor lizard, which was inexplicably paired with a large flightless bird. The bird drew the ire of a middle-aged woman who felt it was pretending to be hurt or injured to avoid drinking the bottled water she was pouring into its pen. "That bird is faking!" she yelled. "What a brat!"

I wondered why the zoo had chosen to put the lizard and bird together. Perhaps they were trying to give this area a wacky buddy comedy feel. Possible episodes: Monitor lizard eats bird egg, thinking it's a crocodile egg. Bird's parents think monitor lizard is gay. Monitor lizard has two dates for the prom, one of which is the bird, in drag! This is a million-dollar idea.

- Cyclura is the name of a Caribbean rock iguana. I couldn't help yelling out, "Are you ready... for Cyclura?!? Are you ready to rock?!?" in a high-pitched wail. Nearby families were not amused.

- Watching animals lounging in their cages and pens makes me realize that I mostly just want to watch the animals eat, shit, or try to hump each other. I'm a simple man, with simple ways. When I was eight, I visited the Oakland Zoo and saw an elephant eating hay and taking a dump at the same time and I think that, even now, it may have been the most exciting moment of my entire life that didn't involve breasts and/or professional sports.

- Fans of the film "Fierce Creatures" would be delighted by the presence of zoo employees clad in large animal costumes roaming the grounds. My companion Gene wondered if there was a variant of American Sign Langage for costumed performers. He suggested the first sign could be for "Help, I'm dying of heat-based sufocation."

- Chimps and orangutans are fascinating and sad, to me, mainly due to their similarity to humans. Maybe I'm being species-ist, but the captivity of those animals bothers me more than others, even with all of the cool climbing equipment they have to perform tricks on (called "enrichment activities"). I was surprised to learn that orangutans are an endangered species in a large part due to the illegal pet trade, because a swinging, excrement-hurling, potential-arm-off-ripping orangutan sounds like just about the worst pet possible to me. Then again, people buy chihuahuas, so what do I know?

- Flamingos look like white collar criminals, due to the monitoring bracelets on their ankles. Freunde Christian thought they resembled "guys who work out but they don't exercise the legs."

- The zoo has a program in which they pair up dogs, usually rescued from the pound, with large predatory animals. A plaque commemorates the deep friendship of one dog-cheetah pair, Anna and Arusha, which I thought was a joke at first. It's serious. The dogs help the animals to socialize and, in the case of one timberwolf, act as a substitute for the pack. Trainers stress that the dogs have to establish a "dominant relationship" right away, which seems to imply that the dogs are tops. The dog-cheetah plaque also says that the original dog-cheetah pair are together now in heaven, which seems like a pretty fucking stupid thing for a scientific institution to say.

- Pandas are incredibly fascinating. I don't know what makes pandas so great, since they mostly sit around eating bamboo all day, but they are great, and I'm not going to question it, especially if questioning it means I have to stop watching those cute little bastards eat bamboo. As cute as it is, eating bamboo looks really painful, like chewing on blades. Pandas are bears, so their stomachs aren't really made for digesting bamboo in the first place, making it seem especially harsh. Is bamboo-eating really an evolutionarily stable strategy, pandas?

The panda exhibit also has a lot of panda sounds on tape, which you have to listen to by picking up a telephone, since broadcasting panda baby cries would understandably freak out the pandas. That doesn't make it any less creepy to pick up a telephone and listen to the sound of a female panda in heat - it's a little too close to phone sex with a panda for me.

- Giraffes have a gestation period of 457 days. That is a tough pregnancy. I wonder if pregnant giraffes hassle their mates a lot: "Oh, honey, I just had this craving for leaves. Yeah, and maybe some bark. Could you go get some leaves? Thanks, baby."

- There's an Alaskan brown bear at the zoo. Not surprisingly, it looked hot. Honestly, July in San Diego for a bear from Alaska - is that even fair?

- A gazelle farted and began shitting right as we walked by. I was somewhat pleased, but freunde Christian was absolutely delighted. He may have even applauded.

- For whatever reason, there is a steel drum band that plays pop songs, Jamaica-style, all day long, although every member of the band is Caucasian. Gene and I debated whether it was worse to have to play "Love Is The Seventh Wave" in faux-reggae fashion, or to have to dress up as faux-old man and zoology expert "Zookeeper Willie." Our debate was cut short when Willie had to judge a hula hoop contest in front of the band, and it got too pathetic.

- Visiting the zoo confirmed the old adage: An elephant never forgets... to take a big crap. I felt like I was eight years old again.

- Short conversation in front of the Arabian onyx:

Sean: He looks like he's waiting for something.
Gene: He's waiting for us to make a mistake.

- A four year-old enjoying "Tiger River" stood in front of the glass chanting "Tiger tiger tiger" over and over again. It was very annoying. Behind the barrier, the tiger paced back and forth, back and forth. I had never seen a tiger so close up before. It was impressive. Though I am no tiger expert, I am fairly confident that the tiger was thinking, "Oh, how I want to eat this god-damn kid!"

- Finally, the laziest animals in the zoo had to be the Australian ones. Maybe it was the heat or the time of day, but the koalas and tree kangaroos did not do a damn thing the entire time we were there. They didn't really even have cages, or high walls to their pens. It was as if the zookeepers knew they didn't have the energy to make a try at escape. Even if they did, what were the koalas going to do? Eat eucalyptus leaves in a different tree? No thanks. G'night, mate.


i once watched a video where some scientists were artifically inseminating a panda and they put the sperm inside her with a turkey baster shoved up her vagina and they had strapped her to this plank which they then flipped upside down so that the sperm would swim up to her uterus. it was fucking sweet. later i watched one of the mommy pandas reject the baby and it was squawling something fierce. heart-wrenching i tell you. on the whole though, pandas are some of the best animals EVER. i love pandas.

The kopje waiting for you to make a mistake? That sounded sort of creepy before I looked up kopje. Now it sounds REALLY creepy....


also odd at the zoo: the strung-out "Fishing Cats" in a tiny cage with a big empty pond. Had they done all their fishing for the day, or was the zoo just punishing them?

After a thorough review, it has been determined that the "African kopje" sign referred to the fake habitat next to the, not the animal that was waiting for a slip-up. That animal was almost certainly an Arabian onyx, and the text above has been edited for a more accurate word picture of the silent, patient antelope. Zembla regrets the error, and extends an apology to the onyx and the entire antelope family..

And, yeah, "Fishing Cats," what the hell? No damn fish in their pond. The Zoo might as well have called them "crocodile-eating cats" and just been like, "Oh, there's no crocodiles in the cage, sorry, but these cats totally would be eating crocodiles if there were any, we swear."

I've certainly never seen cats do less fishing than that.

In the paragraph about the Reptiles you said "[I]learned that contrary to popular belief, giant snakes are not evil, just poisonous." This statement is not true. First of all there are not any poisonous snakes. An animal is poisonous if it excrets a substance from glands in its skin. For example, Arrow poison frogs. Any animal with fangs and venom glands is called venomous. For example, cobras and rattle snakes. Secondly the truely big snakes, such as boa constrictors, burmese pythons, anacondas, and reticulated pythons, are non-venomous. They are called constrictors. They have teeth yes, but no large fangs or venom glands. They use their bulk to wrap around a prey item and squeeze it to death. Most venomous snakes stay under ten feet. The largest venemous snake is the king cobra which can reach up to fifteen feet long (I think), but still remains slim. This size is no where near the twenty plus feet and eighty plus pounds that reticulated pythons and anacondas are known to reach. Lastly, the false water cobra is venomous. This snake is a rear-fanged snake with fairly mild venom. Most people do not have much to fear if they become envenomated by a false water cobra. Although in a handful of people an allergic reaction to the venom has been known to occur.

You bring up some interesting points. I would perhaps argue that "poisoned" is a fair description of what happens if a snake "envenomates" you, and also that a fifteen-foot cobra falls into the "giant" range. Furthermore, NERD! NERD! SNAKE NERD!

are trouser snakes venomous???

Getting back to zoos... one time I was at the Perth Zoo at the crocodile enclosure... a guy was in there with the croc, cutting the long grass with a whipper snipper... I was thinking, 'rather you than me mate!' Suddenly the croc, which I was beginning to think was just a stuffed one, came to life in a big way, running at the guy with teeth snapping furiously! This was the one and only time I have seen a man polevault over an 7 foot high fence with no pole! Moments later the croc returned to its sedentary posture and some ppl walked up beside me... one said to the other... 'let's go look at something else! The crocodile is boring!' :))

I give a nod to this post from *two years in the future,* a time when envenomous snakes rule the planet with an iron fist. Metaphorically, of course.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on July 16, 2003 1:55 PM.

zembla goes south, part 3: tijuana was the previous entry in this blog.

zembla goes south, part 5: the pet name is the next entry in this blog.

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