Anytime we visit a new city, I make a point of adding its zoo to our trip itinerary. I’m a volunteer docent at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, so I am always eager to see how other cities maintain their zoos. I would have loved to have visited the Woodland Park Zoo on this trip (in addition to the Oregon Zoo), but we couldn’t fit it all in this time.
Our garden cottage was only about 15 minutes away from the Oregon Zoo. We thought we would head out early and catch breakfast there. I wish we had grabbed something at a local cafe instead, because the zoo’s menu was a little lacking. Microwaved Jimmy Dean biscuits for $3.50 or so was not exactly filling or appetizing. To be sure, we are a little spoiled in Colorado Springs because we have actual chefs who cook at our zoo and the food is pretty fantastic (it’s rare that you actually smell something good at a zoo, but CMZ has accomplished this feat!). We headed for the Pacific Shores first, in search of the stellar sea lion. I have a soft spot for marine mammals and he did not disappoint! Compared to their Californian cousins, stellars are massive. Despite this one’s oversized-looking flippers, he moved gracefully through his pool. The zoo did a nice job with this enclosure, as there were many windows to view him from both on the inside and outside. His pool extended a great distance, giving him plenty of room to swim. He was even carrying around what looked like a chunk of salmon in his jaws. In the same Pacific Shores area, we also saw a sleepy polar bear and a couple of sea otters interacting with their keepers and floating around on their backs. In the Fragile Forests, we saw a small troupe of critically-endangered mandrills. This handsome devil made all the small females look blasé. His vibrant muzzle almost looked rubbery and painted on. I was a little disappointed, though, that the chimpanzees were nowhere to be seen. The giraffe exhibit was attractive, but I couldn’t help but feel smug knowing that we have 22 reticulated giraffes that you can feed and get up close and personal with at the CMZ. Our mountain zoo boasts 200 healthy births and counting! The altitude of our zoo is similar to that of Crater Valley, so it makes the perfect home for these gentle giants. But I’ll quit bragging and get back to the actual zoo at hand… Similarly to the giraffe enclosure, the hippo yard is beautiful with an ample-sized pool to wade in. I’m rather fond of these big, pink giants. Did you know that they acquire their pink hue from their sweat, which works as a waterproof sunscreen? I wish Chris could secrete his own sunscreen; he’s constantly reapplying it throughout the day to keep from burning. We spent a lot of the afternoon watching their lion pride. There were three lovely female lion cubs, two adult females, and one magnificent king. One of the female cubs hung close to her father’s side, mimicking his behavior and tackling him. An older lady was standing next to me and, at one point, she exclaimed, “If I was a lioness, he’d have to watch out! wowza!” I couldn’t deny that I wasn’t thinking the same thing; no lady can resist that long dark mane. Nearby, parents made their children pose on these metal lions, which had been absorbing the sunshine and felt like molten lava. I watched as a mother forced her son to “hug the lion” while he cried. The look of guilt was obvious as she touched the lion and realized it was searing hot! Chris made me pose with a lioness and he posed with the male (notice we are hovering above the surface of the statues rather precariously). The Cheetahs were breathtaking and I had never been this up-close to one before. This was truly a thrill for me! I was called “The Cheetah Girl” in grade school because of my obsession over these beautiful cats. I drew my family as cheetahs in the second grade and did a presentation on cheetahs for the talent show. Apparently, not all children share my passion for cheetahs; as we were watching them, we overheard a conversation between a 5 year old and his dad:
“Dad, Uncle Mike has Mario Party on his phone. Can I play it?”
“No. Are you kidding me? You’re at the zoo. Look at the cheetah.”
“I don’t want to. I want to play Mario Party!”
“Not right now, we are at the zoo! You don’t need to play on someone’s phone.”
“But you always let me play on your phone!”
This is what it happening to kids these days. They’d rather play a game on a cell phone than enjoy an afternoon at the zoo. Maybe if they come out with “Wii Conservation: Save the Animals,” the kids will care about animals again. Or at least the ones that they can save with a game controller. It was pretty warm by the time we made it to the Asian elephants, but this smiling baby elephant made it all worth while. There was a lot of construction still going on with the exhibit, and it was clear that they are very focused on providing an ideal home for their herd. They had a large bull elephant in a separate area off to the side. The first time we walked through Island Pigs of Asia, the babirusas were fast asleep in the shade. On the way back, through, they were both up and meandering around. It isn’t often that you see them in zoos. Check out his wild tusks! Only the males have them. I suppose the only way they would win a beauty contest is if they were up against the naked mole rat. Our final stop at the zoo was the Great Northwest, where the black bears melted our hearts with cuteness and bear cuddles. This portion of the zoo is nicely forested and shady. The Condors of the Columbia showcased a handful of rare Andean condors, some of which are still contributing to the breeding program.
After the zoo, we picked up dinner: more Indian Street food from Bollywood Theater (because once is just not enough). This time, we had a Mumbai sandwich and egg masala to go. We sat outside of our place on the patio and enjoyed another great meal while listening to bumblebees buzz from flower to flower in the garden.