(Note: concluded from Part Three)
Blurry due to slow shutter speed. Click to enlarge.
Beginning at the third floor we get good looks at various rain forest inhabitants — exotic birds, monkeys, and lizards. The monkeys are water-bound on a small island, but the birds fly freely amongst the visitors, sometimes alarmingly near faces. I almost ask one of them if they know the Fruit Loops guy.
A three-toed sloth, true to its species, sleeps while wrapped around tree branches about six feet off the ground. With no net or other barrier between it and us, its long claws make me wonder just how fast a sloth could move if it got fed up with all the passersby.
The cheetah needs to take a lesson from the otters. It chooses to pace around the perimiter of its habitat, a safety glass box about 20 feet by 20 feet with a large tree leading up through a tight hole in a 10-foot ceiling.
We move quickly past because the cheetah is more interested in being restless than in entertaining us. It couldn’t even bother to sleep sweetly with its chin resting on a branch? That’s what the big cats in the zoo do. Instead it’s one of only two exhibits that cause Shannon and I to let down our guard and say aloud how sad it makes us.
Seriously, somebody give that cheetah the otters’ phone number or e-mail address.
In perhaps the stinkiest exhibit, pink flamingos stand in various states of one- or two-leggedness, some with necks extended, some with their heads resting on their folded wings. Several bowls of what must be Purina Flamingo Chow sit waiting for them to get hungry.
At the lower level we walk through a marvelous tunnel o’fish, with hammerheads, great whites, rays, and other large fish swimming beside and above us. The green of the rainforest shimmers through the choppy water.
We reach the viewing wall of the main pool and catch a glimpse of the manatees. Along with them is a man in a SCUBA suit. When they surface, Benjamin and I dash back up the stairs to see them. As the SCUBA guy works with a feeder box, an oblong, light gray blob sticks to his side just inches below the surface. It follows him across the tank and away into an area visitors cannot see.
Perhaps to join the otters for some sort of mammalian pow-wow. Mouth-breathers, unite!
Thanks to our son’s untarnished enthusiasm, I enjoy myself more than I had expected. Benjamin runs up to every exhibit, hopping up and down, saying, “Look, Mommy! Look, Daddy!” We both help him find animals that the signs claim are in there somewhere. His sense of wonder at it all makes me forget my cynicism.
Until we reach the black-footed penguin exhibit.
Back outside now, but still under the clear plastic’s protective cover, we experience the foulest stench of the day. Eau de penguin piss, I like to call it. Smells are expected when observing animals, so that part doesn’t bother me.
Then we look down to see a lone black-footed penguin. It is hiding under a ledge, shaking. Shortly after we start watching, it slides down into the water, swims a few feet and then struggles to climb onto a rock.
Once on dry land, still shaking, it leans over and squirts white liquid from its hindquarters onto the rock. Diarrhea like that makes me shake, too.
The penguin then slides back into the water and thrashes/swims around, with one flipper out of the water the whole time. “Maybe it’s just cleaning itself,” I say. It goes under the walkway and into the adjoining section of the habitat.
On an island there stands another black-footed penguin. He’s stock still, eyes open, during our entire five-minute stay in the area.
A photographer and his assistant work to take pictures of a happy couple, presumably using the nearby Madagascar exhibit’s tropical vegetation as a backdrop. The man (groom to be?) complains of the stench, but the woman never mentions it.
The Madagascar exhibit closed due to the recent cold snap, we go back into the aquarium, through the gift shop, and out a side door. In seconds we go from mysterious rainforest and underwater creatures to the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas.