Joice and I are at the Cameroon Park Zoo with our three grandchildren: Kirsten, Evan and Cam. It will be a tough day for Evan because he is not allowed to carry or throw a ball in the zoo. This may cause high-level sugar deficiency, twitching of his eyebrows, or more nail chewing. He is down to the first knuckles now, so we won’t let that happen. We will feed him pretzels and nuts, even a Dr Pepper—anything to calm his nerves.

Kirsten will be no problem: she already know the Latin names for all the big cats and the snakes. She will be working on the names of the fish. There are 30,000 species, so that should keep her busy for the afternoon. Not so fast—a species needs to be identified according to its genus, family, order, class, phylum and kingdom, so that will take her a little longer. There are 1,731 animals here in the Zoo, so we need to keep moving. There is even a Paddlefish that, according to the sign, is 100 million years old. I didn’t know the Zoo had been open that long.

Cam will spend hours, if we let him, watching the monkeys, seeing if there are any that he knows, perhaps ex-schoolmates from Live Oak, who have been sent here for discipline. But the way they swing around and are acrobatic reminds him of Evan.

Joice and I will stroll along, hand in hand, so that neither of us falls down. We will spend more time watching the grandchildren than the animals.

Cameron Park Zoo is not named after our grandson, Cameron Hardin, nor the founder of Wycliffe Bible Townsend, Cameron Townsend. Instead, it is named after a certain Mr Cameron, whom I know nothing about. However, some general information can be found at in the Waco Tribune Herald or at The Zoo “rests on 52 acres adjacent to the Brazos River in Waco, Texas.” Our brochure says that “lush native vegetation surrounds splashing waterfalls, a picturesque lake and ponds.” I was happy to note that the Zoo was “resting” and not restless.

We first walk toward the gibbons and are greeting by a pair of white-handed ones. There are nearby picnic tables so we sit down and watch as an upside down mother tries to teach her offspring various athletic moves. We have noted similar feats of prowess at the YMCA we attend. We can’t stay here all day although Cam wants more time. That one gibbon swinging on the ropes looks like someone he knows.

We continue on the the bald eagle habitat. Here our national emblem lives in a protected state because he has told the zoo keepers that he cannot survive in the wild.

Next is the Galapagos tortoise, home to Gilligan, the Professor, and Skipper. They were first discovered by Darwin who rode on the back of “Professor” across the 13 islands of the Galapagos. These giant creatures have been intent on evolving into flying reptiles but, instead, return to each year to lay their eggs. One egg is enough to serve 215 McDonald breakfasts.

We won’t linger because I want to see the world’s largest rodent, which I assumed we had once caught in a trap in our village house in Papua New Guinea, but actually lives somewhere in Panama and South America. It can weigh over 100 pounds and is called the Capybara, which, in the local language, means “exceedingly, big, furry and hungry”. They are excellent swimmers and the youngsters are born with teeth and their eyes wide open, ready for fresh meat. Kirsten told me they are called Hydrochoeuis hydrochaeris in Latin, which Caesar first called them.

We have to go through double doors to get to the “parrots of the world” cage. The parrots are all talking at once and in various languages. I thought I recognized a bit of Tok Pisin when one of them said “gudemait” or something like that.

We next enter a ship on which “we cruise through The Brazos River Country where you [us] will experience a 50,000 -gallon saltwater aquarium.” It’s quite a swim and we are glad to get out into the open air again, where we can discover animals like the American Black BearCougarsJaguars, and “many other animals indigenous to the Texas area.”

What looks like a log in a swamp ahead of us turns out to be an alligator resting and she is rolling her eyes at us. She seems to be interested in Evan, much like the girls at his school.

We take our time as we “explore our African Savanna” and see giraffes, greater kudus and dik-diks. The greater kudu is the 2nd largest African antelope and has huge spiraling horns that can be over 3 feet when measured in a straight line, but no one has ever gotten in a straight line close to them. Instead, the horns are measured on the curve and can reach perhaps 10 feet, depending on the curve. They eat various leaves and shoots and during the dry season wild watermelon. The keepers put salt on the watermelon for those who like it.

The Zoo doesn’t attempt to keep out the buzzards, so there are lots of them in the open areas. They keep looking at us like they are hungry.

As we journey on through the Savanna we see elephants and rhinoceros. A sign says to listen to the lion’s roar but today the lion is content to walk back and forth by the fence, perhaps watching the white rhinoceros, said to be a “two ton lawn mower”. It weighs in at 6000 pounds and should be on a Weight Watchers program. It has two horns on its snout and a big hump on the back of its neck, muscle to support its big head.

The very few white rhinos left in the world stick to the mud during the day so they don’t get sunburned. The Zoo encourages the adoption of animals, but few can afford a rhino so the Zoo suggests instead a monthly donation for the purchase of heavy duty sunburn cream which they will apply nightly to the white rhino. The estimate is $373.99 a month for sunburn cream for two rhinos or $219.49 for one.

Pass the lions we enter the Asian Forest where Sumatran tigers, orangutans, and the komodo dragon are located. The orangutans are all inside sleeping today and the dragon looks like it has just swallowed some meerkat, perhaps a whole colony of them. These little fellows are called the “piranha of the desert” so they don’t seem like an animal we want to meet. The ocelot, jaguar, mountain lion have sometimes been spotted in Texas, but none in Fishpond Village where we live. I guess that is one reason for the gate. I read that the white-tailed deer can weigh up to 200 pounds and can run at a speed of 30mph, especially if pursued by a red or gray wolf.

To be scientific for a minute, the coyote is also called the prairie wolf, the American jackal and, for those who speak Latin, the Canis latrans. They travel in packs but have learned to hunt in pairs. The larger type, the European wolf has been said to visit grandma’s house in the forest and is fond of cookies and crackers.

We end at Lemur Island where there are scores of ring-tailed lemurs running up the cliffs and swinging from ropes. We stay there quite a while—it reminds me of my grandsons when they are watching a TV show, and in their chairs or on the carpet.

It has been a full day and we are still shivering and shaking from our time at the reptile house. There are snakes and lizards crawling all over our imaginations. It is time to get of this place and go back home to our own zoo. It has been an education that we will not soon forget. Indeed, we have enjoyed “ACTIVITIES THAT ALLOW A MORE IN DEPTH UNDERSTANDING OF OUR ANIMALS AND CONSERVATION ACTIVITIES, WITH UP CLOSE ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS, SPECIAL ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS, AND MORE.”

And we got a dollar knocked off the entry price because we were seniors!

November, 2015

Some animal metaphors (match the correct one):

Blind as a _____                                 fox

Wise as an ___                                   dolphin

Bold as a _____                                  beaver

Playful as a _____                              owl

Busy as a _____                                  lion

Cunning as a ____                              bat

Slow as a _____                                  snake

Dirty as a _____                                 cat

Memory like an _____                       duck

Walks like a _____                             mouse

Quick as a _____                                pig

Quiet as a _____                                elephant

Slippery as a _____                            turtle