We took my infant grandson to the zoo in Arizona. I wanted pictures of the little fellow in the same frame as the big creatures we read about in his board books, to give him evidence that they’re real.
Cows and cats, dogs and horses, no problem. But lions, tigers, and bears? Oh, my.
“We can skip the pronghorns and the deer,” I said to the woman who showed me the zoo map. “We’re from Wyoming.”
The first cage we came to held the tiger. It roared as soon as it saw the baby. (Feeding time.) We jumped, but the baby didn’t react.
The creatures in this lovely zoo are rescues, brought in by Game and Fish when they’re injured or orphaned, transferred from other zoos that have gone out of business, or confiscated (like the mountain lion) from people who tried to keep them as pets. It’s a wonderful little zoo that does as well as possible, but I felt sad for the residents.
I saw a bald eagle in a small cage, perched motionless on a branch that was almost close enough to reach. One of its relatives likes to perch on a gate in the field beyond our buck and rail. We watch it through our binoculars. I had no idea they are so huge.
Farther on, a coyote sat forlornly on a rock inside its enclosure. It looked like my dog when he’s bored on a hot day: No reason to run, no pack to run with. We almost never see coyotes at home, but we hear them often, rejoicing over a capture. I felt bad for this little fellow who lost his mother too young.
The pronghorns were wandering around a space smaller than someone’s back yard. I had never before seen one up close and personal, how its horns seem to spring directly out of its eyes. I usually see them in the near distance somewhere nearby, grazing on a plain. They sometimes hang out in the pastures around town when food is short elsewhere.
I have read that they can run as fast as a car. I’ve never seen this myself, but out there, they actually could if they felt the urge.
We didn’t bother to take a picture of the baby near the mule deer. We can show him plenty of those near home.
On seeing us, this huge black bear lumbered out of its man-made cave, approached the fence, and sat down — more sociable toward the baby than my own dog is.
“Bear!” we said to the baby. “Here’s a bear!” This time he paid attention.
Just what we wanted; close, but safe on the far side of a big fence. Then it waddled slowly over to its wading pool and demonstrated how to lounge in the bath. The baby could relate to that.
This brought back a memory: hiking with the dog near the Wind River, I saw what I thought at first was a father and son, both in dark raingear, fishing together. After a few steps, I turned quietly around and walked the other way. That’s as close as I’ve come to a bear – until yesterday.
We know from surveys that “wildlife viewing” is one of the main reasons people come all the way to the Dubois area for a visit. Going to the zoo for the first time in years helped me understand this better.
We don’t just live in a postcard, as someone once said to me. We live in an actual habitat.
© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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