Saturday, April 6, 2013

Let's Go to the Zoo!

I have lost count of how many times I've told people that I never have to worry about letting my inner child out...because I never put her away!

And so it goes with my new-found love of our 103 year old Kansas City Zoo.  It had been almost 15 years since I'd been to the zoo, and my road back there started in January, 2011.  That was when a friend of mine invited me to go with her to see the new Polar Bear, Nikita. After building a multi-million dollar exhibit, the KC Zoo had acquired the 4 yr. old bear from the Toledo Zoo in August of 2010.

For me, it was love at first sight.  I've been hooked on Polar Bears - Nikita, to be exact - from the moment I saw him.  I started shooting video of him (I'm by no means a professional photographer), and was fortunate enough to get some really wonderful footage of him playing in the snow.  January and February of 2011 saw some pretty big snowfalls here in Kansas City, and several days in a row of single digit temps.  But as I always say - if you want to see the Big Guy, you gotta go when it's HIS weather!

When I get such a kick out of something, my first impulse is to share it - always has been!  So I asked my grown children to help me set up a YouTube account, and I created a channel and learned how to upload my polar bear videos.  We also have two wonderful cats, whose antics I have also shared on my channel.  Phineas, our white polydactyl, once told my friend Pam, an Animal Communicator, that "he was my other polar bear."
She has pointed out more than once that I have a interesting connection with white animals (the trumpeter swan at the entrance always comes up and honks a greeting to me!).

So I had between 30 and 40 videos uploaded, then in December (along with the rest of the city) I learned that the zoo was getting the chance to house a female Polar Bear (you can read Berlin's story here). Quarantine for Berlin and "Howdy Sessions" between the 2 bears went so smoothly and quickly - and before I knew it, one morning I was checking my facebook feed and the Kansas City Zoo Facebook Page was posting that the bears were going to be on exhibit at the same time!  I only stopped to brush my teeth, throw clothes on and gather camera equipment - and I was off!

I was so excited, and once again - the bears came through for me.  I got some wonderful video of their first day together on exhibit and their interactions.  Here is the clip that the KC Zoo shared on their facebook page - "Nikita and Berlin - Cornered!" and the number of views it has gained are about to climb to the 4,000 mark.  (analytics on YouTube show me that the largest number of views are in the Kansas City area, but not far behind are the good people of Minnesota - where Berlin came from, and where they miss her greatly!)

I have gone back to the zoo since then, and I'll be honest - there are times when Nikita and Berlin are just going through their routines, whether it be swimming or walking.  And in case you were wondering, I DO go see the other exhibits - my fb page is plastered with pics!  But this past week was a real treat.  We have been stuck in the low gear of winter for what seems like a very long time...only a couple of snows but they arrived in late February and early March - with approximately 1 foot dumped each time!  So this week has seen the arrival of warmer temperatures, and above all - SUNSHINE!  I had cleared my schedule, and made another spur-of-the-moment decision to head on over to the zoo.

The bears were each doing their own thing when I arrived, so I walked on down to the Tropics House to say hi to Smithers and Chee-U, the white-cheeked Gibbons.  Then I headed on down to Africa to see if the Cheetahs were out.  They were, so I snapped some great shots of them.  As I walked back up towards the front of the zoo, I stopped and checked out the construction on the new Penguin Exhibit - coming along nicely, BTW. As I passed the carousel I noticed it was closed - signs were being repainted - but the Lorikeets were out. For the first time in all my visits, the exhibit was open, and you could walk through.  Being a die-hard bird lover, in I went.  I think the birds could tell, don't you?

After about 30 minutes with the Lorikeets, I figured it was time to check on the bears once again, before I took off for home. I watched for a while, when all of a sudden, it appeared that Berlin (the female) was going to get into the water.  Most zoo-going folks here know the story of her dis-like of the water, so this was wonderful to see.  She dove in - and I must tell you here just how incredibly graceful she is in the water, it's like watching a ballerina, I am not kidding! - and began to play with her plastic jack-o-lantern bucket.  After a few minutes with that, she went after one of the big white plastic 55 gal. drums that the bears love to destroy.  She floated on her back, and 'pushed' the barrel up in the air several inches then caught it.  Once that game was over, I began to observe the most interesting behavior I had yet to see Berlin show...

This whole time, Nikita was busy doing his swimming routine - he has an area and a "route" in the water that he swims, over and over.  Imagine my delight and surprise, when I saw Berlin push off a rock under water and propel herself over to where she could block his path!  She had the timing down perfectly, and repeatedly interrupted his swimming.  I finally realized - the tides have turned - SHE'S trying to get HIS attention! 

It was about this time that I heard someone mention that they'd heard that the zoo thought it quite possible that Berlin is in season... which is a nice way of saying that fingers and toes are crossed by all personnel and fans of the zoo, I am sure - in hopes that we could be so fortunate as to have polar bear cubs someday...and it also went a long way in explaining her sudden attitude change towards Nikita. It reminded me for all the world of children on a playground in Elementary School. In my day, one of the most surefire ways of getting a boy to notice you was to go over and give him a thump on his arm - you know, to get him to pay attention to you!  Ah, playground romances...

Regardless of what happens, words cannot express how incredibly fortunate I feel to have witnessed this behavior.  I have the utmost respect for our zoo, it's director, and the wonderful staff that stops on a dime, anywhere, to answer your questions.  And so, I must share...♥  Me and the Polar Bears, sharing the light one YouTube video at a time!