A refuge in water

For a certain type of person or animal, Thursday was the perfect day: humid, windy, sunny and edging into the upper eighties. For me, and the larger beasts of the Northern Trail, it was the kind of day you can enjoy for a few minutes, or even close to an hour, before demanding some form of relief. Fortunately, these beasts had nature’s air-conditioning — a pond — in their back yards.

Like every creature on the Northern Trail, these Bactrian camels can deal with temperatures of either extreme. Here, though, they’re keeping cool and holding still, aside from a swiveling head or two at the sound of my camera — in dramatic contrast to the moose a few exhibits farther along.

Most moose I’ve seen have a stately, regal bearing, but this female was playing in her pond like a kid in a swimming hole. She strode repeatedly back and forth from the hip-deep shallows to the neck-deep end, stopping here and there to shake water noisily off her shoulders like a dog after a bath. Along the way, she paused several times to rear back and slap the algae-green surface with her forefeet. Wild moose like to eat water plants and can dive deep to get them, but since our zoo moose feast on Purina moose chow, there was clearly more than hunger or heat going on here. This moose was making her own pre-holiday summer fun.

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Her spitting image?

The zoo’s two-week-old baby camel was all over the local news after he went on exhibit Wednesday, so I hoped to get a clear view of him Thursday. Luck had me scheduled on the Northern Trail first thing, and I raced out into the balmy sunshine to behold the leggy cuteness for myself.

At about 150 pounds, this still-unnamed fellow is roughly one-tenth the weight of his molting mama, Sybil. (With the recent unseasonable warmth here, she apparently decided that winter coat just had to go.) I hadn’t actually seen the little guy on TV and didn’t expect him to be gray. Lured in like me by the news reports and short-lived glorious weather, a crowd of camera-toting spectators had lined up alongside the camel group. A preteen male voice behind me stated, “They like to spit” (when they’re angry, yes, the word on the street is that camels do spit). Another child exclaimed, “That camel has eight legs!” when the baby stepped behind his mom, his head and body hidden behind her bulk. In a quintessential kids-at-the-zoo moment, an octet of third-graders screamed in horrified delight when Sybil took a sudden spontaneous potty break.

Most of the world’s remaining wild Bactrian camels live in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, where their fat-filled humps and oval blood cells help this endangered species retain nourishment. (A memory device: The capital “B” has two humps, and so do Bactrians; dromedaries have one).

I’m not sure if that’s daddy Turk in the background of this photo, but Turk has fathered 16 calves to Sybil’s four. The zoo says Bactrian camels breed easily here — a happy example of exotic threatened creatures thriving in captivity.