Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cool Zoo Day!

I just got home from a most amazing afternoon volunteering at the Virginia Zoo!

I was there to help keepers by observing the new red panda,  Masu, being introduced to Timmy in the enclosure they will now share. She's had the space to herself for a week to adjust. Timmy is one of matriarch Bernadette's offspring.

When I arrived Timmy was in one large tree sleeping away the hot, humid afternoon. Masu was in another. We volunteers were surprised - they have two air conditioned boxes available - but according to Keeper Jill, all the interesting action had happened in the morning. Roughhousing, chasing, a bit of swiping at each other…normal stuff, kind of humorous because, you know, red pandas. Like watching two stuffed animals try to look angry.

Then after about an hour Masu descended her tree with that adorable pigeon-toed walk. She spent a few minutes in the AC, poking her head out twice to nibble on conveniently located bamboo. Meanwhile the other volunteer and I were entertained by watching the squirrels steal the Panda Chow biscuits one by one. Masu emerged to climb Timmy's tree. 

"Oh boy, here we go." She climbed to within a foot of Timmy and initiated a staring contest. It was shocking to see how aggressively she could stare. I saw Timmy kind of stretch and lift his neck to raise his head taller. Suddenly he swiped at her, and growled. 

Masu got the message. I was here first! She raced down the tree, across the little yard, and hid in her box. After regaining her pride she climbed high into her original tree. Peace restored!

As my shift ended I decided to visit my animal friends on the Trail of the Tiger on my way out. The Zoo was closing in 30 minutes, so most visitors were gone. The first exhibit I would pass was the Malayan tigers.

Born at the Virginia Zoo...
To my surprise, the two cubs born last January were out in plain view, wrestling in their pool! Usually about 50 people would be standing there but I was alone. I had the sight all to myself and it was impressive - two 270-pound tigers wrestling in the water just feet away. 

January 2016…but they're BIG now!
Then it got better. Osceola looked directly into my eyes, loosed his brother, and swam straight over to me. I am saying that this enormous cat gazed straight into my eyes as he swam to the other side of the glass separating us. Inches away, he relaxed and just sat there, gazing around, then looking at me. Like we were two old friends just hanging out on a hot summer day. I have never - ever- been so close to a nearly adult tiger. For several minutes we just sat together. 

Finally some kids ran up, squealing and rambunctious of course. They kind of broke the mood.  Osceola didn't seem to appreciate it. In fact from the way he lunged and pawed at one sweet little girl, it's a good thing that glass was there! 

But wow, what an incredible experience. Days like this are why I love being a zoo volunteer.


  1. Sounds like a fun day. Mom says we have red pandas at the KC Zoo, but they are always hiding. And they are in a dark area so they would be hard to spot, not like yours. That tiger cub must have appreciated having you there alone without a lot of noise and distraction. That must have been so very cool to see.

    Woos - Misty and Lightning

    1. We're so lucky to have exhibits that give the pandas lots of choices about where to be. They never seem very shy.

  2. oh that was interesting... I specially love the red pandas....and I love the name Masu :o)

    1. Everybody loves red pandas. I don't know where they got the name, but Masu came from the Denver Zoo.

  3. Just wonderful and fabulous photos! I used to know a woman (sadly, she passed away) who was a Docent at the Cleveland Zoo for many, many years. I used to love hearing all of her stories!

  4. Wow, what an amazing experience! Tigers are SO gorgeous! What a great place to volunteer!


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