Ten years later and the OKC Zoo is still one of my favorite zoos. Perhaps it’s just the sheer number of memories here – the countless days pulling three little girls up and down the hills in our radio flyer wagon, early steps, carousel rides, and making faces at the gorillas. If we weren’t at home, we were most likely at the zoo.
Now that we know we’ll be staying here long enough to enjoy it, we got our zoo pass today. I was worried the prices would have changed in ten years. They hadn’t.
It’s different now. The girls aren’t toddling, I couldn’t carry them if I wanted to, they don’t get ice cream mustaches quite as often and the little red wagon would barely hold one let alone three. They may not have quite that same frenetic joy about animals that they did as tiny ones… but, none of that mattered. It was still fun, they still loved seeing the animals, and it was nice to be back to a place changed, yet still familiar enough.
The Giraffe Feeding: This is new and we were excited, but the tokens we bought still jingle in my purse because though we were poised in line at 11, the giraffes weren’t at all interested in what we had to offer. It’s too early in the season to have branch clippings to offer them. Today the first group went in with long leaves of Romaine lettuce and though one giraffe approached, much to the dismay of the hissing goose who flew up repeatedly and pecked the giraffe’s hindquarters (hugely entertaining), she wouldn’t come close enough to eat and eventually wandered off to nibble leaves from trees. Her friends only turned, saw the paltry lettuce leaves, and continued wrapping their long black tongues around the new spring leaves dangling above their heads. We’ll save the tokens for another time.
Is this common? The keeper said that the best time to feed them is a bit later in the season (late spring, early summer) when they’ll have branches to hold out for the giraffe to eat. Certain kinds of branches can keep Bogey standing there the entire hour people take turns feeding him. Sometimes they’ll go through all their branches during the 11-12 feeding, so that’s the best one to do because these guys are tired of romaine and I can’t blame them.
The Sting Ray Feeding: The sealion show would begin at 1, so we showed up at the Stingray Bay a few minutes before. It’s a touching pool where you can touch and feed the stingrays. The toenail-like barb at the base of its body is clipped by zookeepers to render them harmless. It’s that barb that gives the painful sting.
If you’re early enough, you can buy food for $3/cup and feed the rays. We each got two pieces of fish and shrimp which we placed between our fingers, then, holding our palms up, submerged them into the water so that the rays could swim over the top of our hands and eat. The first one seemed to want to engulf my entire hand. He lingered and nibbled. Though it didn’t hurt at all, it was strange to have this thing gumming my fingers, so I withdrew my hand and let him swim off. The second ray was so gentle, all I felt was a slight suction as she passed over and the piece of shrimp seemed to be vacuumed from my hand. The man working there pointed out the older, darker rays who were more gentle than the light colored young ones.
Elise saw the raw fish and passed her cup over. She wasn’t interested in feeding or touching the rays. Arianna fed one with the help of one of the keepers, but that was enough and she passed off her extra piece of fish to Luci who, like me, could have spent all day petting and feeding the beautiful rays.
To pet them, we placed our palms down and let them swim under our hands brushing themselves lightly against our fingers. They’re soft, slippery, but not slimy. With the smell of fish on my hands a few thought I still had food and swam over the top trying to vacuum up the food I didn’t have. They were all sweet and gentle though. I would have stayed longer had time allowed.
Photos: The best photo ops would be from the far side of the pool or if you have a wide-angle lens and a fast shutter speed. The rays are so quick, that when so close to them, all I got were weird angles and blur.
The Sealion Show: Though we showed up right as the show began, we got seats front and center and thoroughly enjoyed a silly, educational yet entertaining sealion and seal show that taught the differences between the two and showed off their abilities and quirky personalities. I’ve seen plenty of wild sealions off the Oregon and California coast, but it’s fun to be close enough to see their black toothy smiles and tiny earflaps. Splashing isn’t a danger at this show. No humans got wet. Currently one of the sealions is pregnant though they can’t tell exactly how far along, they think they’ll have babies in a couple months.
The Lorikeet Feeding: Though the Lorikeets are open for visits until 4:30, they stop selling the nectar to feed them promptly at 4. We showed up at 4:01 and it was closed, so we walked in sans nectar hoping to at least allow a few beauties to perch on our arms and shoulders. By 4 though, they’ve been perching on people all day long and are ready for a break and some quiet. I enjoyed taking pictures of them and Arianna did too until she felt something fall and her and realized what it was. Needless to say, she won’t be going inside the Lorikeet exhibit again anytime soon and not without a hooded poncho (not a bad idea, actually). Elise was the only one with any lorikeet luck. A little girl gave her leftover nectar to Elise before she left and soon she had two lorikeets sitting on her taking turns drinking. It’s said that giraffe have black tongues to prevent sunburns. I wonder if it’s the same for lorikeets.
Unlike Arianna, I was a bit disappointed to miss the pleasure of a flock of birds using me as a human tree, so I asked the keeper. She told us that after the lunch break at 1:30 is the best time to come. The birds are hungry and very social. If you don’t want a dozen birds roosting on your head and shoulders, then avoid this time. Also be warned that these birds are not potty trained and if you stand under a flock of them, you may suffer some rather unpleasant decoration. BYO…poncho.
The Fish and Goose Feeding: There is no schedule for this. Just walk by the lakeside near the cat exhibits and you’ll find little bubblegum-style dispensers with food inside. A quarter gets you a small handful that the geese and catfish fight over relentlessly.
The rest of the zoo: I’d planned ahead to hit the special things like shows and feedings hoping to maximize our visit and it worked well enough. Unfortunately, without a map, I ended up backtracking a bit. The upside is that we all felt our leg muscles the following day. The downside is that although we walked miles upon miles, we didn’t see the entire zoo. The elephants are now off in a corner beyond the gorillas – quite a hike to and fro with no way that we found to loop into another area. It’s a gorgeous new area though, a million times better than the old Pachyderm house where the rhinos now live. We missed the elephant show… that’s one to do next time.
Bald eagles are always striking. This guy had nearly an entire wing gone, but hopped around pretty well and started to sing. I’d never heard an eagle sing like that – started to video a bit late, but it was still cool.
Some of my favorite creatures today weren’t actually caged animals. Birds landed on branches nearby building nests. I was even shocked to see a cardinal, a bird I thought only lived in the east. The many flowering trees attracted butterflies as well, another creature I’ve missed from Maryland. Without my backyard forest, nature seems distant. It’s nice to see it here.
Zoo Babies: Today we saw a baby rhino, baby galapagos turtles now two years old and still smaller than a basketball, a baby elephant less than 6 months old, and a baby gorilla just three weeks old. The baby gorilla was nursing in his mother’s arms the entire time, so while the toddler in the next enclosure played and was easy to capture on camera, the infant was hidden mostly within his mother’s arms and behind the murky glass of the smaller enclosure. Loved seeing his mom multitask though… she held and nurse him with one arm while grooming another gorilla with the other.
A few more photos: We arrived at 10:15 and left at 4:30. With a small lunch break, we had a nice full day. I think the porcupine and anteaters may have been my favorites to see and the flamingos and lorikeets were my favorite to photograph. We DID NOT see the red panda. (So not surprised.) Ten years ago we joked that they had a stuffed animal in the tree because it was ALWAYS perfectly still and sleeping in the same exact place. Today he was completely missing, so it seems he will continue to be the more boring