What I Like About Zoo

Sometimes you just have to see for yourself. That’s a good motto for life. I feel badly that sometimes I do not go to a movie or a restaurant, don’t book a hotel, or take part in an event just because the online community doesn’t like it. Yet not everyone shares my tastes. They don’t know what I like. They don’t know the inner me.

Take my parents – everyone loves them – thinks they are so funny and personable. Me – they were put on Earth, as far as I can tell, for four reasons – to create my brother, my sister, and me and fourth, to embarrass us from the point of delivery onward. My dad, as a chaperone at my pre-prom party, during a time of hush, while the principal was making an announcement, fell in the pool. Splash, gasp, laughing – three distinct sounds now enveloping this cauldron of hormones and anticipation. Then, all eyes fixed on me. One sound. Me shrinking from 5 foot 10 inches tall to 3 inches tall. I guess that sounds like an old wooden apparatus, maybe a medieval rack, creaking as it tortures.

This segue clearly and obviously brings me to the Austin Zoo. Tucked away in a rather dusty gas station/convenience store peppered area of far southwest Austin, The Austin Zoo is a dichotomy of modernity. It’s great, but it’s maligned. The web is paralyzingly too often patrolled by complain-o-bots with a compromised sense of literacy who defiantly spell definitely “defiantly.” The point is that the Austin Zoo really isn’t so much of a zoo in the common sense – or maybe it is. The enclosures are far from fancy or large. They seem comfortable and sufficient given the purpose.

The zoo is not big. Two hours is about right for an adult to meander through the grounds and see and read about every animal there. The human food purchasing is limited to about 5 vending machines. The array of animals is modest. That’s the rundown of what the Austin Zoo is, essentially, not.

The Austin Zoo is a wonderfully revitalizing stroll – relaxing under a canopy of many trees – but with something exciting about every fifty feet. The cockatoos and Macaws aren’t overly exotic, but they’re overly large for their breeds and incredibly gregarious. Parties of Peacocks stroll freely around the grounds with their young (not that these peacocks are especially celebratory, but that is what the collective of peafowl is called according to signage at the zoo).

The giant Galapagos Tortoises are regal in their size and lifespan. Their pace, a reptilian message of “I don’t move fast because I don’t have to move fast for anyone,” is graceful in its listlessness. There was a black bear on the roof of a shed in part of his enclosure.

Tigers and lions in their full majesty. Not many, but still striking in every conceivable way. Capuchin and Spider Monkeys, Lemurs, Kinkajous, exotic pigs, a reptile house, and at least two dozen more examples of wildlife that you don’t see regularly, even on 6th Street. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive overview of the Austin Zoo.

Regardless, there are two things to consider, above all else, about the Austin Zoo: Your vantage point, with some animal cooperation, is about 6 feet from the predators, and a foot from the other animals. There are posted warnings that visitors can get “sprayed” by the big cats.

Also, and more importantly, this facility is populated exclusively by animals that have been rescued from bad living situations – usually as poorly chosen pets – even the lions. These animals were not taken from the wild. They were rescued from captivity and given a chance. They cannot be repatriated to their original habitats for hosts of reasons. Every animal, even the chickens, has a name. No, the enclosures (cages) do not faithfully recreate the respective animal’s natural habitat a la Animal Kingdom. The residents are not trying to compete with the offerings at San Diego. At the Austin Zoo though, Leroy the lion (formerly the “security” at a junkyard), on this day, was sitting in a corner of his enclosure closest to the visitors, playing with a ball somewhat protectively. People approaching him to take pictures, or get a better glance, got treated to grunts and roars and head twists of a lion at play – reacting to you. Of course, when 6 feet and a chain link fence is what separates you from a roar that shakes you like a baby rattle and breath you can smell (not minty fresh), it’s a little less playful for the novice – but no less crazy exciting.

That makes the Austin Zoo unique. Maybe they should call it an animal sanctuary if that would make people happier. Call it whatever, Leroy is still Leroy and that’s what matters. Also, if you believe all the poseur critique on some parts of some of the web, and you don’t go, one of your parents may fall into a pool thereby causing burdensome embarrassment for a period of approximately 25 years.

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