Monday, June 4, 2012

My Trip To Zoo Atlanta!

A Photographic Essay and a Multimedia Extravaganza!

Earlier this year, something downright horrific dawned upon me; it had been 20 years since I last visited Zoo Atlanta. Clearly, this was an oversight that needed rectification as soon as humanly possible, and since there's really not much else to do on Memorial Day, I think a long-long-long-delayed tripped to one of the Southeast's largest zoos was an absolute given. 

So, what did I experience on my first journey to Zoo Atlanta since George H.W. was in office? Well, a lot. In fact, I ended up with damn near half a memory card full of photos and videos, which I wanted to share with you, mostly people that I don't know or never will meet. This multimedia essay isn't exactly a substitute for visiting Zoo Atlanta in person, but if you're one of the unfortunate sorts that will most likely never get an opportunity to visit it, I think this is probably about as comprehensive a tour as anyone could give you. And the absolute best part about this virtual profile of Zoo Atlanta? No freaking lines whatsoever

Now, who is ready to get this tour moving? Just remember to hold on to your personal belongings, and please...refrain from feeding the animals (because they are just pictures and videos, so it's really, really stupid to try and shove a carrot through your laptop.) 


The very first thing you’ll see  after passing through the ticket-taker booth at Zoo Atlanta is the flamingo exhibit. Well, unless you make a sharp turn to the left as soon as you get in, which would make the gift shop (as well as one of those hurricane-simulating arcade machines) your first observation. All in all, I suppose there’s not that much to say about flamingos. Uh, they’re pink and tall? I mean, really tall, probably about four or five feet, max. They - as well as every other animal at the zoo - also have these little plastic cuffs on them…I suppose, in case they escape, so you’ll know where to return them (because if there’s ever a rhinoceros on I-75, there’s so many damned places it could have come from, I imagine.) Not to slight any flamingo-enthusiasts out there, but I wasn’t really too enthralled by what I saw here. Then again, they did put the pen right next to a coffee stand that sells meerkat puppets and super-expensive African-Explorer action figure sets, so perhaps that explains my disinterest. 


One of the really weird things (read: super-OCD) things I noticed while at the zoo was just how dirty all of the animals were. Yeah, I know, that’s a very human-biased observation, but I was just amazed by the amount of dirt these elephants managed to accumulate upon their hides. 

Most of the time, when we think of elephants, we think grey, silver and sort of off-white-ish, right? Well, these things were more or less the same color as rusted copper, and jeez, were they ever wrinkly-looking. Even so, the sheer size of the things was absolutely staggering, and more than made up for any momentary “icks” or “ewws” that I temporarily squeaked out upon viewing them. That, and how could anybody not be enchanted by something that chows down on hay so gosh darn adorably? 

Exotic Birds!

So it’s not exactly a big secret that personnel at zoos are sort of leery of letting patrons get hands-on with the wildlife. Then again, when your business needs money, you’ll take cash grabs anyway you can, and sometimes, that entails letting customers pay $35 bucks to shove lettuce into the mouth of one of the most poisonous animals on the planet. At the exotic bird cage, however, there was an entirely different sort of surcharge going on, and this one will probably result in far less wrongful death suits in the future. For a dollar, you can pick up a honey-covered stick embedded with little pieces of bird feed. After that, you waltz into the aviary, and the sundry winged animals hop on your tongue depressed and eat right out of your hands. And somewhere, there’s an unproduced “Saw” script where a dude gets covered in peanut butter and thrown into one of these pens with coked up hummingbirds, I can just tell…


One of the things you really have to accept when you enter a zoo is that, for the most part, you’re not going to see much action. As a matter of fact, at my most recent visit, a good 90 percent of the time, the animals on display were either sleeping, just laying there about to go to sleep, or pretending to sleep so all of the patrons would leave them the hell alone. These things were so docile that I’m beginning to wonder if the guys at Zoo Atlanta pump the animals full of sedatives before the place opens, just as an “eff you” to customers. So if you’re heading over here and expecting to see Pumba and Bebop throw down, Animal Face-Off style, you’re going to be sadly disappointed, I am afraid. 


When you think “rhino,” you just think “awesome,” from underrated Spider-Man villains to former ECW World Heavyweight Champions that cut some of the most insanely graphic promos of all-time. Unfortunately, there was only one rhinoceros on display this Memorial Day, but it was a cool sight, nonetheless. Proving that my foray was indeed a quasi-educational one, I learned that rhinos - and presumably, those other filth-encrusted mammals on display - coat their bodies in mud, gunk, and their own poo because it serves as something of a sun block lotion, as well as a form of insect repellent. So, in other words: if given the opportunity, don’t ever smell a rhino. 

Giraffes, Zebras AND Ostriches!

I’m lumping all of these animals together because Zoo Atlanta lumped all of them together in one pen. You know, that sort of sounds like a recipe for carnage, but apparently, the three disparate creatures seemed to get along quite well, perhaps having that whole “man, doesn't it suck having lions eat us?” shared experience to keep them amalgamated as a peaceful community. First things first - giraffes are HUGE. As in, way, way taller than you’d think they’d be. The same can be said of ostriches, which are easily as tall as most NBA players. Not surprisingly, the zebras looked a lot like horses up close, only more colorful and rocking Mohawks instead of mullets. For a $100 fee, Zoo Atlanta reps allow customers the opportunity to feed the giraffes - although, the buzz killers they are, they WON’T let you attempt to feed them Sour Patch Kids (trust me, I know.) 


The number one rule in determining whether an event was worth attending or not? You discover something that you didn’t know existed a day prior. And in regards to my Zoo Atlanta trip, I learned that there was an entire genus of mammal out there that, formerly, I didn’t know was an actual animal. Bongos, I suppose, are sort of like gazelles, only fatter, and apparently, WAY lazier. According to the most trusted source in the known universe, bongos are actually a distinct breed of antelope, but like I’m going to forego calling something a “bongo” when I get the chance. I theorize that the name of the musical instrument is derived from their hides (a long time ago, I’m guessing some dudes used their skin as a drum or something), but seeing as how musical bongos actually originate in Cuba…uh, maybe it’s just coincidental? 


Some people have said that I foster an irrational fear of hummingbirds, but I disagree; a mortal apprehension of hummingbirds as about as rational as selling high and buying low as far as I am concerned. Think about it; those things are essentially flying hypodermic needles, and like super-powered crack addicts in search of their next fix, their thirst for nectar is downright unquenchable. So, encountering this hornbill - essentially, the Brock Lesnar version of the commonplace hummingbird - was sort of like peering into a portal to hell for about five seconds. And with that in mind…sometimes, the world’s a better place AFTER certain species have gone extinct, you know. 

Red Pandas! 

Despite being called “pandas,” red pandas actually have more in common with raccoons than those giant white and black things from China that everybody seems to fawn over. The things are pretty small - imagine, a really, really overweight cat, and you have the proportions and girth about right - but Zoo Atlanta spared no expense in giving this little critters a comfortable habitat. Jeez, how many other forms of wildlife out there do you think get a hammock to monkey around in? 


Well, I guess that makes it two species that are hammock-worthy, since these lemurs also get a swing to lay and play in, too. The lemurs were perhaps the most vociferous animals I saw that day, who got a wild shouting match started at one point before things, eerily, just sort of trailed off into silence. The crazy thing is, the lemur habitat at Zoo Atlanta is wrapped around this tree house, which is home to dozens and dozens of different animals - albeit, in separate compartmental areas, of course.

I guess there really isn’t too much to say about lemurs, other than their tails are a lot longer than you’d think they’d be. And I’ve never seen any of the “Madagascar” movies, so I had no idea why all the kids there kept referencing it while gawping at the animals. Anybody mind giving me a brief primer on the movie series now? 

All Sorts of Reptiles!

Turtles are EVERYWHERE at Zoo Atlanta. I don’t think you can really move more than 200 feet without coming into contact with a small turtle garden, which dot the environment like trashcans and park benches (and an aside, but sort of worth noting: if you’re ever at Zoo Atlanta, check out the concrete walkways closely - see any semi-secret floral patterns there?) 

So, yeah, as you can see, there are TONS of turtles roaming the place. Turtles with spiky shells (whether or not they were thrown out of the sky by some dude in a cloud, however, I cannot confirm), turtles with really weird looking flat heads, and even turtles named after breakfast goods (pancake turtles were represented in full force; the waffle tortoise, sadly, wasn’t present)…if you have a thing for turtles, then you definitely need to check out Zoo Atlanta if you’re ever in the area. 

But, they weren’t the only reptiles on parade, of course. I’ve always wanted to see a Komodo dragon up close, and at Zoo Atlanta, I got a chance to see two of them; one, a very, very stationary full-grown one, and the other, a juvenile dragon that was really, really intrigued by the blinking red light on my camera. Also, for the low, low price of just $35, you have the opportunity to feed one of these monsters by hand - and in case you’re up for that, just remember: Komodo dragon spit is basically a mini CDC-lab of viruses and bacteria, so…yeah, be sure to wash your hands afterwards. 

And lastly, there were a ton of snakes on display, but very, very few of them in the reptile house seemed to be doing much of anything. I have NO idea which variety this serpent is, but since he(she?) was the only one remotely doing anything active, it became the one I decided to turn into a YouTube celebrity. Any serpent-aficionados out there want to fill me in as to which breed this one is? 


You know, there really isn’t much in this universe of ours that’s cuter than two otters frolicking in a pond. 

There’s not much to add to that statement, other than…goddamn, are these things ever adorable. 

Monkeys of all Sorts! 

Folks, checking out the monkeys at Zoo Atlanta is worth the price of admission alone. Now, I know there are a lot of you out there that think Darwin was full of poop, but just watching people watch the gorillas and orangutans on display was one of the most amazing sociological experiences of my fledgling adulthood. Somehow, people knew which gorilla was the father, which was the mother, and some observers were even affixing entire familial set-ups (one dude was CONVINCED that one of them had to have been the uncle figure) for our primate kin. 

Yeah, yeah, we all know that monkeys and humans are a lot alike, but until you see them up-close, I don’t think you can rally grasp how similar we are to our simian brothers. And I know I sound like a hippie right now, and I don’t care. 

Of course, super-lifelike gorillas weren’t the only monkeys on display. There were a few smaller primates being exhibited, as well as a very large - and awesome - orangutan area. 

And if there was ever a trans-species version of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, my money would be on an orangutan to win at all; I mean, hell, something that flexible with fists that large could wreak more havoc than a runaway wrecking ball if it ever learned jiu-jitsu. So, Jane Goodall…consider yourself on notice. 


Look, I admit to being biased against pandas, but as with the hummingbirds, it’s for a good reason. Pandas are absolute death machines, and if they ever united as a coalition, humanity is doomed. You may think I’m joking, but examine the physical attributes of those things: 400 pounds, agile as all hell, with teeth sharp and strong enough to chew through bamboo. You know, the same things those karate masters make kendo sticks out of, and the same material the Singaporeans use to beat the hell out of American visitors. These things mean business, and pending a spike in population numbers, that business would be our asses as a species. 

Even asleep, these things are horrifying. While active, they’re even more unholy-looking, ambling around with this smug sense of superiority, as if their poo was gold colored (the fact that it is, however, is a non-factor.) People seem to love pandas, and I simply abhor them; however, try standing a good four feet away from one in person, and just tell me that your blood temperature doesn’t drop just a bit being that close to one. And we actually want these abominations to reproduce? Get with the program, planet earth, Get with the freaking program. 

Kangaroos (and For Some Reason, a Goat, too!) 

Kangaroos are downright fantastic creatures, and their travel-sized coffee mugs aren’t too bad either. More so than just about any animal not named a “mongoose,” I was perhaps most pumped about seeing one of these in person than anything else. Apparently, the kangaroos at Zoo Atlanta must have had some gargantuan breakfasts, though, because they weren’t doing shit by the time I came around. 

One of the things that hits you (well, not literally, unless you stand really close to the cage, anyway) is just how large most of the tails are of the animals on display. As domesticated Americans (mostly), when we think tail, we think of something thin, narrow, and short, like with a puppy or a piglet. The kangaroo here had a tail, however, that was about the same size as a fur-covered baseball bat - and if he slapped you with it, I assume that it would hurt just as badly. Not that it reminds me of “Streets of Rage 3” or anything. 

So, the kangaroos, sadly, weren’t as active as I had hoped. That said, I was in store for an unexpected surprise (as opposed to the expected kind of surprises, I suppose) when I entered the petting zoo, where this goat decided to…well, you’ll see. Now, as to how a goat ended up right next to the marsupial section, however…


A zoo without a lion is like a jumbo burrito without guacamole, or an Oakland Raiders game without someone being stabbed in the parking lot. It’s just something you expect, and sort of look forward to, and although Zoo Atlanta had only ONE lion on display, it was still a fairly entertaining sight. 

Well, later on in the day, anyway, because that morning, Mr. Lion was practically comatose. 

We tend to throw out the term “majestic animal” a lot, but when it comes to lions, that title is most certainly applicable and merited, without question. Just watching the thing -with its massive mane and golden eyes and surprisingly slender lower body - patrol the environs was one of those transcendent experiences, where I really felt a connection with nature of sorts. Of course, there was also just a smidge of mortal danger there too, because if that Plexiglas gave way, forget identifying my remains ever. 


And of course, we save the absolute best for last. There about a million, bajillion reasons why meerkats and mongooses are my favorite of all animals, and I think these photos and videos explicate about half of them. They’re so cute, and noble, and attentive, and prepared, and socially aware. Whereas most of the other animals were just lounging around at Zoo Atlanta, these meerkats meant business, burrowing and staking out the bushes and even hopping atop logs to scout the waves of humanity passing before them. 

Even though they’re not really indigenous creatures here, I think this is more than enough reason to change our national emblem from the bald eagle to a grey mongoose; if there’s a living thing more glorious than these little buggers here, modern science has yet to discover it. And as such, I think it's only fitting that we let one of these fantastic creatures have the final say for this multimedia essay. 


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