Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Strutting Peacock, Purring Jaguar (Volume 2)

Flamingos doing what flamingos do best

....the story so far....

On Tuesday, our intrepid Zoo-venturers, Sarah and Steve, braved the mid-morning threatening skies and less-than-inspiring forecast for a trip to the Toronto Zoo. In yesterday's gripping yarn we learned that the skies cleared up, the crowds were small (actually, that's new information), the animals were engaging and the trip was a success. Here is the exciting conclusion to their story, post-penguins. Well, perhaps "exciting" is too strong a word......

The white lions on "Pride Rock"
From the penguin exhibit we took the now-familiar path to the white lions, who were back out on display today. Not only that, but all three were in the exhibit together for the first time in any of our visits since they arrived. As luck would have it we showed up about a minute before the lion keeper started her talk, so we stuck around for that, of course. In this picture the keeper has just addressed the crowd and this has roused the three young lions from their siesta to lift their heads and stare at her groggily for a few moments before heading over for a closer view. The lighting was much more conducive to long-range photography today than it was on the "sneak peek" night for Members only, so I finally took some pretty nice shots of these popular kitties....

Look at these beautiful faces!
....with this one being my runaway favourite. It's a shame about the fence post in the centre, but I was able to get an unobstructed shot of all three of their gorgeous faces, attentive and curious as they listened to the keeper finish up her talk to the crowd. Still not a year old, these three beautiful cats (one male, in the middle, two females flanking) are as yet unnamed. The Zoo will soon be running a contest to solve this "problem", so if you have any terrific ideas for naming white lions, keep an eye on their website and send yours in when the time comes.

Waterfall at the Mayan Temple Ruins
Sarah wanted to visit the beautifully-landscaped Mayan Temple Ruins today because we always seem to miss it on our visits. In fact, I'm not sure we have ever seen it together so I was happy to go along with this plan. We visited with the macaws, capybaras (a family of five, just barely visible through the waterfall in the centre of this picture), golden lion tamarins (including a new addition), spider monkeys and many other creatures of the Americas. The highlights of the visit, though, and the main reason we headed over to this area were the two jaguars: Luca, the male who is golden with black rosettes, and more specifically Sambuca, the female who is a more rare black with black rosettes. They were both gorgeous to look at, but while Luca lay regally upon a thick branch at the front of the enclosure, Sambuca was delighting in life at the rear, where she alternated between padding around, gazing into the eyes of the visitors who stopped to watch, and rolling around on her back like a giant house cat. But the truly fascinating part of Sambuca's antics was that she was purring the entire time we were there. Now I know the experts are adamant that the big cats do not possess a "true purr" but there is absolutely no other way to describe the joyful sound Sambuca was making. (I also noticed that she put on a much more gleeful display when Sarah and I were the only two in attendance than she did on the two brief occasions that other people joined us at the back of the cage. That was very gratifying indeed.)

I took two very short videos of Sambuca, one while she was pacing and one while she was rolling on her back. They're not much to look at, but if you listen closely (particularly at the end of the first video and right after I say "Hi" in the second) I think you will be able to pick up the "purring" that we heard:

So what do you think? Purring? Or were we just imagining things?

Sarah, meet Ray. Ray, Sarah.
On our way back to the main gates we decided to visit the Sharks at Stingray Bay, an interactive exhibit that we had explored once before, on Sarah's birthday a couple of years ago. It's interesting to me that the sharks are set up as the main attraction here; there are only two sharks and at least a couple of dozen rays of various species and the sharks are much more shy than the rays. In any event, we've had a lot of fun on both visits to Stingray Bay at the Zoo. Some of the rays were unbelievably tame, appearing to be genuinely seeking affection as they came up to Sarah and me, hovering for a time in the vicinity to receive pats and strokes before slowly moving off again. I don't recall this level of desire for human contact the last time we visited them; that time they seemed to be zooming about quite haphazardly and only really were interested in us when we had a chance to feed them (we were very lucky that day). No food was to be found today, but some of them were still quite happy to be played with.

The two "love sharks" at Stingray Bay
The sharks, as I mentioned, were more aloof, but to be fair they both seemed to be tired, taking turns languishing at one end of the pool for minutes at a time. When we were able to touch them the rough, sandpaper-like quality of their skin stood in stark contrast to the velvety-soft feel of the rays. In this picture they were taking a respite together and what was remarkable about this was the way the smaller shark (the female?) swam up to the larger one, who was already resting, and put her fin on his as if she was holding hands with him. This was not a fluke: we saw her do this over and over again. It was delightful.

We rounded out our day by taking a Zoomobile trip from the main gates all around the park and back again. For the next year or so this is the only way visitors can see any of the Eurasia zone while the Zoo staff are working to prepare it for the arrival of the pandas next spring. I still miss the old monorail but this is a pretty good way to take in the enormity of the Zoo's footprint in the Rouge Valley. Once the Zoomobile had returned us to the starting point, we headed back to Babar (our car) and reluctantly drove home again, consoling ourselves with the knowledge that we are fully-paid-up members until August 31 of next summer. There will be many more Zoo Days in our future.

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