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Bits & Pieces -- Jerry Lane

I am a proud member of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn.! Do I sound

like one of the KCET fund-raisers? I am so thrilled with the improvements

they have made over the past few years that I want to tell everyone to go

and see. And when they have seen, I want them to join, because they are

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as excited as I am about the zoo’s exciting renewal process.

In that frame of mind, I took a friend to a very special morning

designed by GLAZA to thank members for their support. It’s worth the

price of membership to be allowed to be present on these annual

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“Members, Keepers & Creatures” mornings, when they open their doors at 8

a.m. for members only.

This is a wonderful opportunity to see the animals when they are at

their most active in their beautiful habitats. Keepers who care for them

were at each of the exhibits to explain and answer questions about the

animals and to conduct behavioral enrichment demonstrations.

We learned that animals are taught particular behaviors that zoo

visitors find entertaining for the purpose of facilitating medical

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procedures. Teaching an elephant to lift a foot on command allows a

keeper to inspect the foot for injury. Teaching it to raise its trunk

makes inspection of the mouth possible. Imagine how you might make these

inspections if the animal were not trained to cooperate. You’d probably

have to anesthetize it for such examinations, which could be very

dangerous. No, “Up, Jumbo,” is much safer to the keeper and the animal.

We were thrilled with the Red Ape Rain Forest. I had seen it before,

but this time I was waiting when the orangutans rushed out into the

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habitat, looking for the orange slices that the keepers had hidden among

the fruit trees and giant bamboo. A few of the primates climbed the ropes

and swung over the temple-like structure to descend on the other side,

playing with hanging sheets of paper, logs and baskets. Bruno, Eloise,

Kalim and Rosie showed spectators how happy they are in their arboreal

home. It was great!

The Chimps of Mahale Mountain has been one of my favorite exhibits

since it opened, and I couldn’t wait to share it with my friend. Rolling

hills, trees, a beautiful waterfall, logs and plenty of rocks for

climbing make it a wonderful place to watch these creatures playing,

oblivious of the spectators who watch, intrigued at the sight.

The gorillas were great. One sat almost like he was posing for a

portrait. He played with a red flower, then looked up at us as though he

wanted to say, “Snap it now!” Another ambled quietly around the habitat,

then quickly ripped out two patches of grass and threw them at its

audience. I suspected he was telling us to go away, and we did.

The river otters chased sardines frozen in ice like Popsicles, and the

sea lions jumped, rolled over and nudged the keepers with their flippers

to ask for the fish that they knew were in the red buckets they carried.

Work on revamping the sea lion habitat will begin in about four months.

You can see that a great deal of serious thought has gone into providing

safety and stimulation for the animals in the construction of all the new

habitats. I can’t wait to see what this new one will look like.

We saw the black bears and the spectacled bears, who played with balls

and hanging toys, then posed for pictures. At least, that’s what it

looked like to us. The armor-plated rhinoceros, the gerenuks and the

beautiful zebras, like all of the animals we saw, were in wonderful

condition.

The Sumatran tiger was a delight to my photographer friend. Big cats

make wonderful subjects for pictures, but they are usually sleepy when we

see them. This day was a wonderful exception: The tiger played with a

stick, wandered around Tiger Island pawing through foliage, and

eventually found a rabbit carcass, which excited it to run around,

tossing it ahead of him and then laying out in full view of my

picture-taking friend. He was ecstatic!

Staff members and docents were in great spirits as they welcomed

members to the park. One happy fellow greeted us with, “They’re feeding

the fossa!” When we responded with puzzled looks, he said, “You’re

supposed to say, ‘What’s a fossa?’ ” When we did, he conducted us to the

enclosure to see it for ourselves. It looks like a cross between a dog

and a cat, with a few other animals thrown in for good measure -- like a

short, stocky puma with a long tail. At one time, naturalists believed it

might be a primitive cat, but DNA studies have confirmed that it is

actually more closely related to the mongoose.

We visited the golden lion tamarins, who seemed to love the camera.

These tiny monkeys are found only in a small, fragmented section of

forest in the lowland region of the state of Rio de Janeiro. The Los

Angeles zoo is participating in a reintroduction program that has

released many of its tamarins and their offspring into the wild in

Brazil.

The 43 staff members and 1,000 volunteers are justifiably proud of the

job they are doing in trying to make the Los Angeles Zoo the best it can

possibly be. Go see what they have done. If you haven’t been there for a

few years, you are in for a big, beautiful surprise.


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