Visitors and a Trip to the Zoo

We have had out-of-town guests yesterday and today, Dawn’s sister Laura and Laura’s daughter, our niece, Elizabeth, visiting us from Georgia. Elizabeth is five-almost-six and on spring break this week, so mom and daughter took a little trip, leaving dad and brother at home.

I had walked to the Capitol South station with Dawn yesterday, who then rode the train to National Airport to meet Laura & Elizabeth. They then did stuff around town, having lunch on the roof deck where Dawn works, across the street from the Old Post Office Pavillion, and visiting the Natural History Museum. They were at home when I got home from work, just slightly late.

We drank wine before and during dinner. Dawn & I have given up alcohol during the week, Monday through Thursday, for Lent. So we’ve traded away now Good Friday, so that we could drink wine on a Wednesday. Dawn made lasagna for dinner, although Elizabeth had some pasta shells with butter and cheese that she didn’t especially eat. They watched Charlotte’s Web while I did the dishes. Whew, I’m not used to doing dishes for four.

Then I took today off so I could join them in frolics. Specifically, we were going to the zoo.

We got up early today for breakfast. Elizabeth didn’t eat much of her part of the omelette. Then after showers and dishes, we were off to the zoo. We got off the Metro at the Woodley Park stop at Dawn’s behest, rather than my suggestion of Cleveland Park, so we walked uphill instead of down, as well as into the wind. We hit the restrooms right away. As I was waiting for the gals, a young lad came out of mens room still zipping up. He needs to learn to take care of that before exiting.

First animal we saw was the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). We saw one pacing back and forth by a fence, on the other side of which a female human (zoo worker) was cleaning up what looked pretty much like a giant litter box. Around the corner we saw napping on like a front porch, in like a sandbox, a whole family of cheetah. Or cheetahs. Cheetae. Whatever. We saw a zebra (Equus grevyi) bashing around a tub, which we guessed was supposed to contain lunch, and the zebra was annoyed that it did not in fact contain lunch.We saw an emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) but no kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus).

Next up was a maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), snoring away in a little doghouse. We couldn’t help but notice the stench. A sign helpfully noted that the maned wolf has mighty powerful urine for marking territory. The scent followed us for a while, and later we knew where we were in the zoo, that we had returned to this point, when we smelled it again.

Then the star attraction, of course, the pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Mom and Butterstick (Mei Xiang and Tai Shan to you pandamaniacs) were in one area eating, while Dad (Tian Tian) was off by himself. Mom was generally concentrating on eating, while Butterstick was mostly concentrating on hijinks and antics. There was the climbing of the log, then the falling off same, then the rolling down the hill. The climbing of the Mom earned him an annoyed swat from her, to everyone’s amusement. We watched all this from the terrace of the Panda Cafe, which is totally the best place for panda action but is never nearly as crowded as the much inferior Panda Walk below.

Next to the Elephant House. There was one giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) outside, but inside a number of elephants (Elephas maximus) were getting fed. We got some good hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) action too. We also saw two capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris); capybara evidently are the largest rodents in the world.

Lots of cute little things in the Small Mammal House. Around the Great Ape House we see no primates taking the O Line above our heads. I’ve never seen anyone ever traversing the thing. I think it’s fake, at this point. And it may sound like a joke, but it’s not: the taxonomy for gorilla is Gorilla gorilla gorilla. Isn’t that awesome? They’re all sleeping when we arrive, however. We see only one orangutan, but whether Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) or Sumatran-Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus abelii) I don’t know. He’s awake but just kinda slumped sitting there.

We have lunch at the Mane Restaurant, burgers for the adults (veggie for us, cow for Laura) and a hotdog for the kid. And fries for all. And Elizabeth actually manages to eat most of her hotdog, although she skips on the applesauce. Laura suggests we leave the applesauce, but I stuff the package in my backpack for later.

We make our way by the Great Cats on our way back, but we see pretty much only the backs of a sleeping lion (Panthera leo leo) and a tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). That’s about our only disappointment of the day. We also check out the komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).

Lots of creepy crawly things in the Reptile Discovery Center, but the aldabra tortoise (Geochelone gigantea) is always a favorite. The Invertebrates Exhibit turns out to be totally surprisingly cool. Well, I’m a little creeped out by the cnidarians, but then the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is stately, graceful, and beautiful, and I find hanging out with him an oddly moving experience. Then I go watch the terrarium packed with hissing cockroaches (Gramphadorina portentosa). Mostly they’re all hanging out and dormant, but for this one guy who seems to be silently grooving to music only he can hear. Nearby there’s a lobster (Panulirus argas) with this spectacularly enormous claw, almost like it’s some sort of prismatic trick of the thick glass or something.

Elizabeth and Laura buy stuff in the Panda Pavillion gift shop while Dawn and I sit and snuggle and snooze outside. Then we make our way back home. Downhill this time.

2 thoughts on “Visitors and a Trip to the Zoo

  1. According to the April 3, ’06 Newsweek, there are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas left in the world. Isn’t that shocking? There are 1,590 living in the wild and fewer than 200 in captivity. I wouldn’t be surpised if there are currently 2,000 people stuck in traffic in the Mixing Bowl in Springfield.

    I remember seeing Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling at the National Zoo, back in my pre-teen years. They were a huge hit from 1972-on. It was always big news when they had a cub, It was so exciting, and so depressing when the cub wouldn’t make it. According to the article, “Pandas need all the love they can get. They’re notoriously difficult to breed.”

    I love critters of all kinds (except for those roaches you mentioned, and mosquitos). It’s always really, really exciting when I read about the discovery of an animal heretofore unknown to the scientific community. I suppose that I can understand finding new species of insects or tiny frogs, but what really gets me going is the discovery of a new mammal, or a new bird.

    Why are these discoveries so thrilling? I suppose it’s because it’s a reminder that we don’t yet know everything about this world of ours. Did you know that a two-pound squirrel-like rodent was living in the treetops on the island of Panay in the Central Philippines? Apparently noone else knew, either, until about 10 years ago. It’s the Panay cloudrunner, Crateromys heaneyi.

    In March 1994 two British ornithologists, on a wildlife survey in Laos, discovered a previously-unknown species of large barking deer in a private menagerie. (It is now named the Giant barking deer.)

    And then, there’s the kouprey, supposedly a rare, wild, forest-dwelling cow, which may or may not have survived the Vietnamese War, in Cambodia. Is it real, or is it a myth? Every time I think that these stories must be bogus, I hear about another “new” animal. After all, nobody expected some dude to catch a live coelacanth fish in 1938, but it happened. If that can happen, why is it improbable to think that a plesiousaur may indeed be swimming around in Loch Ness? It would be no less bizarre.

    Every day I’m hoping to hear breaking news that somebody has gotten the “money shot” of a living, breathing ivory billed woodpecker, until recently thought extinct since the 1940’s. (The supposed proof of the rediscovery, some wobbly, out-of-focus video, doesn’t cut it for many birders, including one of the best, David Sibley.) I so hope that it’s out there yet.

    There’s so much bad news in this world, so many tragedies and disappointments, as well as taxes and bureaucratic B.S. that we all have to put up with every day of our lives. If this news is confirmed it would be so big, so joyous, so thrilling, I think I could groove on the thought for years.

    So I continue to hope, and to watch the Cornell Lab website for updates:
    Maybe we’ll get the great news tomorrow…

  2. Just for the record, I wrote the previous comment. Forgot to include my name. Carry on.

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