A tale of two Thursdays

No two zoo days are quite alike — not even my past two hot, sunny Thursdays on the Northern Trail. Week before last, the bears had grown so engrossed in digging a hole that they had to be taken off exhibit while workers with trucks filled it in. Meanwhile, a few exhibits away, the goitered gazelles ventured down toward the trail and then posed in a positively geometric pattern. (Last week, they were hiding up top again, prompting a human couple on the trail to say plaintively, “Come on down! We’re here.”)

Goitered gazelles don’t really have goiters, but the males do get goiter-like throat lumps during mating season. Websites describe the species as “ungazelle-like” because the females deliver twins and lack horns. Our Northern Trail group lives near animals also native to Mongolia: the Asian wild horses and Bactrian camels.

And speaking of Asian wild horses, another foal was born at the end of July and is seen here nursing out on exhibit last week. The Memorial Day foal, grazing at left, already looks rather adult.

Also last week, the grizzlies were back on exhibit. The previous week, I hung out by this viewing area explaining their absence as described by fellow volunteer Wally, who had fed them that morning as his reward for investing 1,000 hours as a volunteer. Wally tossed them melons from a walkway above the exhibit, and while Kenai and Haines gobbled them up, Sadie was totally engrossed in the hole she and the boys had been digging. The novelty of leftover buried construction materials, inedible though they were, trumped the lure of real fruit in Sadie’s mind. (Here we see her innocently napping with Haines, who’s on the left.)

And here’s the approximate site of the big hole, now filled in, just behind the small separate trout pool to the right of where Kenai, in particular, likes to swim. While explaining the bears’ hole-related absence week before last, I started chatting with a kid — as usual in these cases, a tween — whose keen interest in animals marked him as a future biologist or veterinarian. He mentioned his love of sea otters; I mentioned that we also have river otters, and he wanted to know where they were. I ran into him and his family a little later, at the adjacent sea-otter exhibit, and again at the Minnesota Lodge, where I confirmed that he was approaching the river otters on the Minnesota Trail. That’s always one of the zoo docent’s simple pleasures: the sudden exchange in which animal facts are shared, the volunteer gives advice on navigating the zoo, and the two of us maybe bump into each other again before going our separate ways for good, both sides enriched by the encounter.

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