Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love animals. I love being around them, I love petting them and playing with them and snuggling them. I tell them my deepest darkest secrets and have no fear of judgement from them. Movies about them make me laugh and cry more than any other. And I love going to the zoo just to see them.
So it came as no surprise to anyone that I would want to spend my 40th birthday at the Metro Toronto Zoo this year. Even though I wasn’t feeling well, I knew that Hudson and company could make me forget my lingering chest cold for a few hours, and my dwindling sense of smell would not inhibit my enjoyment of a cheeseburger and fries at the Caribou Cafe. So off Tim and I went, taking our usual transit route up to the beautiful Rouge Valley area and the grand zoo nestled within. Determined to at least hit our most favourite spots before returning to bed, we swung by the kangaroo and emu enclosure on our way to say hello to young master Hudson and really kick our day into gear.
The fool was playing in his pool – with his bowl – and gleefully showing off his latest trick. Apparently he has figured out how to blow bubbles in the water with his nose, and he did it over and over again to make sure everyone could see how very clever he was. I love that little furball so much and could not stop laughing at his youthful antics. Already I was feeling better. :’)
We stopped to see the adult polar bears next door, as well, but I had a little coughing fit, so once that was back under control, we moved on to check on the arctic foxes and wolves, but none of them were in sight that sunny morning, unfortunately. They were likely all napping in some patch of shade or another, so we headed over to Africa to see some of our other favourite critters.
The white lion cubs were in full chew mode, having just been given their treats at the end of their daily Keeper Talk. They’re adorable no matter what they’re doing, really, so we watched them for a few minutes and took our time moving around the rest of the Africa section. We missed the penguins because there were just TOO MANY PEOPLE in that whole area, but we saw the hyenas hanging out, and one of the gorgeous elephant ladies was out and about, as well. We deliberately skipped the lemurs because we were hoping to be feeding some the next day, and thus had to skip the meerkats, as well, because they’re right close to the lemurs, and I was likely to get drawn in. Missed the gorillas this time (and the otters, which I love), but stopped to see the orang-utans for a bit, and they managed to put on quite a little show while we were there!
The end of our zoo days are always the same right now. We go to the Caribou Cafe (this day we rode the zoomobile around to the Tundra area again for lunch) and have our burgers of amazing in the aromatic cloud of happiness. Then we swing by Hudson’s enclosure again, because he’s right THERE – and because I can’t resist another chance to see him, even for a moment. And then we head to Stingray Bay. For my birthday, Hudson had decided to dress up in several layers of mud – to the point where he looked like a whole different bear – and chase around his new empty gas can toy for awhile. Naturally, I couldn’t have been happier, and took several more pictures of him before heading over to Stingray Bay for some cheap therapy.
Lucky again, we found the stingrays AND sharks to be a little extra affectionate, and one of the big sharks even let me touch its fin when I told him it was my birthday. There’s honestly nothing more relaxing to me right now than petting stingrays. They are so soft, and when they come up and eagerly push thier heads into the palm of your hand and slow down so you can pet them longer…there’s just nothing like it. I love it. That is one exhibit that is going to be sorely missed by yours truly. I hope we get the chance to do that again, someday. ❤
A quick tour through the gift shop and Tim and I headed home. We had another huge day coming up the next morning, so we wanted to be sure we were well rested up and ready to go! Jungle Cat World was waiting, and with it my birthday present to myself – Part II!!!
We actually ended up taking GO transit from Toronto all the way out to the Newcastle Loop, and a cab from there to the park. We got there good and early, so we had a chance to get all checked in and paid up, then wandered the park on our own until the daily feeding tour was about to start. I love that alpacas and sheep and the most patient donkey in the world were all free to roam the grounds, and perhaps we spent a ridiculous amount of time petting the goats, but HOW CUTE ARE THEY?! I also may have spent an exceptional amount of time talking to Sheila, the young red kangaroo, but again…she’s so adorable!!!
The feeding tour was incredibly informative, but only when I could hear our guide, Beth, over all the people that were there that day. It as another gorgeous day outside, so people turned out in droves and cluttered the small zoo when they were all trying to be in the same place at the same time. I got to hear the lion’s impatient growl as he stood up to get his food (and later his mighty roar echoed throughout the countryside when he announced he’d finished eating), and watch the hyenas bicker over their equal portions of chicken, just to be bickering over something. I loved hearing each animal’s individual stories, too, even though some of them were really heart-breaking. The beautiful jaguar who’d been declawed by the circus she’d been in before being rescued by Jungle Cat World was one that stood out for me in particular.
Soon after the feeding tour was over, it was time for Tim and I to begin our Behind The Scenes tour. I’d had my heart set on the 3 animals I most wanted to work with on our tour, but we had to wait and see which ones were available that day. Several of the animals were away educating people at a different show, including Nadine the Amir Tiger I’d been hoping to meet for the past several months. The ringtailed lemurs and Vanda the arctic wolf, however, were both available that day, however, so I managed to land 2/3’s of my initial wish, and that ain’t bad. I just had to come up with a different third animal, and get over my disappointment at not being able to pet a tiger for my birthday. Our co-ordinator, however, was none other than Beth, the same girl who had just done such a great job on the feeding tour, so we made our choices, and our Behind The Scenes tour was underway!
We first met Vanda the arctic wolf. She’s a lone wolf at the moment because her brother is part of a mated pair, so she enjoys coming out to meet people, because she thinks of the staff as part of her pack at the moment. I think she’s around three years old now, and when they find a boy wolf for her to mate with, she won’t be as friendly anymore, so we’re so happy we were lucky enough to see her! She’s really affectionate, and she loves to give kisses and have her tummy rubbed. Also, if you pet her through the fence of her enclosure, she’ll lean right into it to get the most attention possible! She’s absolutely beautiful, and Tim and I were both elated with how that first critter encounter went!
Next, we headed to the lemur enclosure, which I’d been looking forward to since I first found out I might be able to feed them on my tour. I chose the ringtailed lemurs over the fluffier ruffed lemurs, simply because I am a bit more familiar with/obsessed by them. I wanted lemurs to sit on me so badly! And if I get to go back again, I may very well hang with the ruffed lemurs next time. We’ll see. These little guys did not disappoint, and I think ended up being the favourite part for Tim and I both. The two younger ones were on us immediately, while mama held back and kept an eye on things. She eventually came over and had some blueberries out of my hand, too, but she prefered to stay on her branch. Papa Guido was another animal who was away with the others, but the two kids alone were more fun than I could handle – I am still giddy! Their mouths are small, so they not only have to smack their lips when they eat, but they also have to tilt their heads back to make sure the juices run down their throats, rather than down their fronts. I think at least as many blueberries ended up on the ground as in their tummies, actually, but that didn’t stop them from thinking we weren’t feeding them fast enough, and sticking their wee heads into the mugs to get at the berries themselves! Tim had one on his hat and another perched on his shoulder, at one point which – to me – just means happiness! 🙂
For our final animal, I had chosen Sassy the cougar, because I really wanted to pet a big cat, and Nadine and the Lynx were both gone. I knew the other pair doing the BTS tour that afternoon had also chosen Sassy, though, and at the last minute, I decided to give her a break, and help the JCW staff socialize the baby skunks, instead. Sassy’s personality lives up to her name – it’s where she GOT her name – so I know she would have been amazing, but at the same time, I think she would have been grumpy about having to come out of her cage a second time so soon and sit while strangers pet her from behind. And the baby skunks were up at the boss’ house because they’re too young to be on display yet, so we got a REAL behind the scenes look as we trudged up to work on getting them used to people for a bit.
There were three of them, all sisters, all asleep. As soon as Beth woke them, one took off out the side door and hid in a corner of their run. Another stamped her little feet as a warning for us not to hurt any of them. And little Tulip – terrified as she must have been – actually let Tim and I hold her the whole time we were in there. I felt like I wasn’t holding her right, or that she wasn’t comfortable, but Beth said she just wasn’t used to people yet, and that they squirm a lot when they want to be put down, which she wasn’t doing with me, so it was okay. I’ve never really looked at a skunk before – not up close like that – and I admit I kind of fell in love a bit. She has the cutest little feet, and she curls up in a ball so she can hold her own back feet if she wants to, but for us, she just held onto our hands with her front paws. Her little nose was a bit drippy, and her eyes were bright but wary. As soon as Tim put her down at the end, she bolted back into bed with her foot-stomping sister, but kept watching us and didn’t seem so afraid anymore, so that’s good. And we told the other sister that it was okay to go back to bed once we were gone. That little bolt of white down their noses is just adorable, too. And they’re litter trained! And they’re softer than I’d expected. The lemurs were the softest, though. 🙂
So there you have it – that’s how I spent my 40th birthday weekend. I got to be with one of my favourite people, see some of my favourite animals, and have some real interaction time with a few of them! My eternal thanks to the Toronto Zoo and Jungle Cat World for everything they’re doing – and for letting me experience a small part of it. I plan to go back again, in fact. Tim and I are both members at the Toronto Zoo, and will continue to be, but I also hope to save up my cash over the next couple of months and get back to Jungle Cat World again sometime soon-ish.
After all, there’s still a certain tiger I am hoping to pet, and there are lemurs. In my happy place, there are always lemurs. 🙂