Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – June Story

Samson asking for a treat

First of all, let me apologize most profusely for the lateness of this post. The tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo at the very end of May knocked me for a bit of a loop and – perhaps even more importantly – the backstory of this month's photo seemed woefully inappropriate to share on the heels of that incident. Within a few days, the month just kind of got away from me as the Education Department at the Zoo has become more and more busy with the end of school looming. Maybe I'll learn from this and have the rest of the year's posts "in the can" long before the first of each month.

Ha ha ha!! Yeah, I just read that out loud. So...probably not. But I do hope to have them ready for the turning of the next six pages, at least!

So, this is Samson. I had suspected it was all along, but I wasn't 100% sure and I only managed to check with his #1 fan – keeper Alison – after the calendar first went to press, so I left his name off of the June page. (I managed to add it for later editions, though.) I took this photo in 2014 – ironically enough on May 31, or precisely two years to the day before I should have had this post uploaded – and at that time I didn't know one hippo from another, so I never tagged this picture appropriately. In the meantime, I've learned several ways to tell the three siblings apart; in the case of Samson, the easiest way is to know that he always goes on exhibit alone.

Perky (2nd) and Petal
Samson's two sisters, on the other hand – Petal and Perky – are ordinarily found together in the exhibit. I am fairly certain that Perky is the one with the tooth sticking out; however, for some reason I cannot seem to commit that 100% to memory. If I find out otherwise, I will edit this post. Perky recently turned 25 years old while Petal will turn 30 in July. All three are magnificent creatures, but Samson (who will be 43 also in July) is on a whole other level, Sarah and I were extremely fortunate to have a visit with him (and his sisters) a few months ago, and he is absolutely huge. Spectacularly huge. Overwhelmingly huge. The thing is, the Zoo's elephants (when they were in Toronto) and giraffes and rhinos and other enormous beasts have all been viewable at one time or another from a position of relative equality with respect to ground level. That is to say: Zoo guests have been able to stand at the same level as these animals, allowing us to gain an appreciation for their bulk. The river hippos, on the other hand, have always been in an exhibit that is situated below the ground that visitors stand on, diminishing the effect of their massive size. So when Sarah and I encountered Samson for the first time from a "level playing field" it was positively exhilarating. When he opened his enormous mouth to ask for a treat I found myself looking up at his lower jaw. It absolutely took my breath away to finally understand just how incredibly mammoth these animals are, And now I believe I can better appreciate just how it is that hippos have become the most dangerous land animal (to humans) on the African savanna.

An "Itzakadoozie" frozen treat
On the day I took this month's photo, Samson had recently had his scheduled public feeding. The keeper (no recollection of whom) had moved on to other duties and the great beast was idly floating around in his pond, probably searching for morsels of yummy treats that had previously escaped his giant jaws. As I watched him leisurely move about in the water, I happened to notice a little girl of perhaps three years old in her father's arms near the corner of the pond. He wasn't holding her over the water in any way, nor was she perched on the rocks; nonetheless, the "Itzakadoozie" she was clutching in her wee hands was clearly visible from the pond itself. Ultimately, the bright colours attracted the attention of Samson – at least, that's what I presume happened – and he slowly manoeuvered himself into a position just below the girl and her dad.

And then he opened his massive mouth.

Hippo in Belgrade enjoying a watermelon
He didn't open it enough for it to be a sign of aggression, in my opinion. In fact, Samson did not open it any wider than what you can see in the calendar photo. Judging from the photo at left (not mine) it seems to me that he was looking for another treat. Perhaps he mistook the popsicle-like goody for a carrot. Or a squash. Or a watermelon; I don't believe hippos are particularly known for outstanding eyesight. Whatever he thought he might be about to receive, he sure looked eager to accept it. And as impressive as the image was from my angle, I can't even begin to imagine how it must have looked from the vantage point of daughter and dad. But I know one thing: I'd sure loved to have been in their shoes at that moment. Maybe somewhere down the road. Come to think of it, I imagine the best thing for me to do would be to get to a future Keeper Talk early, position myself behind where the feeding would be taking place, and shoot a few frames over her shoulder. Watch for the results in a future calendar – or, at the very least, a Facebook and Instagram post.

In the meantime, Sarah has fashioned a stencil in the shape of a hippo in order that Alison can have Samson create a masterpiece using....wait for it....flying poo. Yes, that's correct. So watch for that at a future fundraising event. I'm assuming you'll be able to bid on it only in increments of the Number Two. Bahahahahaha....I'll show myself out.

Next month: the story behind what is quite possibly the most visually striking shot of all thirteen (including the cover) in this year's calendar. Hmm. Perhaps I should start that one the moment I post this one.

Yeah. Like that will happen.

(Post has been edited to include the word "land" in the phrase, "...most dangerous [land] animal...". The most dangerous animal in Africa? The mosquito.)
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