On Friday I took my two grandmothers to the zoo. It was something that they had asked me to do a while ago but, as life tends to do, things snowballed and I just didn't have the time to do it. Until Friday that is...
So, after going in to Wits and having a brief social gathering with all of the other behaviour students and my supervisor, I headed off to fetch the aging matriarchs and head off to the zoo. We arrived and headed off into the zoo. Neither of my grannies are particularly fit, given their 70+ year status, so I went off to organise a zoo buggy for us to travel around in.
Zoo buggies are highly over-priced, electrically powered golf carts that the zoo hires out to the aged, the infirm and the down-right lazy. They are really great fun to drive around, but at R70/hour, should be avoided unless one has recently come into a considerable inheritance and lacks the foresight to invest. In hindsight, I suppose that it's not all that expensive for a non-student who is not spending part of every day at the zoo...
Once I'd acquired my zoo buggy (buggy number 9 in fact!), I shot off down the hill to meet my grandmothers, waiting for me on a bench by a pair of central African monkeys. Once I reached them, and we were all on the cart, we began our tour of the zoo. First up, the chimps!
We went up onto the chimp platform and watched them for a while. Both grandmothers were very happy to see the chimps and fired a barrage of questions at me about them, my project and chimpanzees as a species.
I'd like to take this point to inject a little fact that I recently became aware of and which I find very exciting! Apparently, the mapping of the chimp genome has been redone and, contrary to our original estimations of genetic similarity between our species and them, originally thought to be up to 96% in common between the two, the percentage overlap in genetic material has been re-evaluated. It now appears that we share 99.6% of our DNA!
While up on the chimp platform, my one grandmother noticed the orang-utan in the enclosure opposite and insisted that we go and have a look. We headed back to our faithful buggy. It was then that my one gran pointed out the fact that the buggy was a left-hand drive! Which is not the norm for South Africa. None the less, we headed off to the Orang's.
The rest of the day was spent going all over the zoo, seeing the orang-utans, the meerkats, seals, ring-tail lemurs, elephants, sitatungas, snow leopard, yellow, hamadryas and chacma baboons, mandrills, lions and finally the tigers. It was the last exhibit which really made my grandmother's day. The zoo has plenty more animals and I would have loved to take them to see them all, but exhaustion sets in quickly in the aged...
The tiger exhibit had not been altered in any way since the 1970's and was in dire need of being rethought. So, the zoo built them a new one and converted the old one into baboon enclosures. Now, the new tiger enclosure has only recently been completed and neither of my grandmothers had ever seen it. It's a fantastic enclosure, built with a swimming area, loads of grassy hillside for them to romp around on and plenty of trees to climb. But, one of the best features of the enclosure, from the point of view of the public is that the enclosure has three viewing windows, from which the public can view the tigers from approximately 15cm away.
Another amazing feature is the 'Loo with a view'. It's a public bathroom that is built into the side of the enclosure, from which people can view the tigers, as they do their business. The viewing window is not visible to any people however!
So, as we arrived at the enclosure, my one grandmother went off into the bathroom, while I, and the other gran, waited outside, looking into the enclosure. It was just then that one of the bigger tigers in the enclosure decided to visit the window. It performed beautifully! I couldn't have asked for a better moment!
My gran was so amazed by the experience! She'd never been so close to a big cat and had never realised just how big, powerful and beautiful they were up close. It really made her day! Meanwhile, the other one was inside the bathroom and she too saw the tiger at the window and marvelled.
It was so amazing for me to see how special such a moment could be to them! Working in the zoo almost every day, I think that I often fail to remember that not everyone gets to have the experiences that I am afforded. For me, seeing that tiger so close, while definitley one of the more memorable moments at the zoo, was not nearly as amazing as it had been for my grans! I think it goes to show that it's important that we remember just how lucky we are, in all aspects of life and appreciate every blessing we are given.