Monday, October 4, 2010

The Pretoria Zoo

When Peace Corps volunteers come to South Africa, we're dispersed all over and most of us live and work very far from Pretoria.  Since the Peace Corps office is in Pretoria, we sometimes come to the city for "business." Mid-Service Training (Missing the States and Toilets!) is also the time for medical and dental checkups. There are thirty-something of us and we all converge upon Pretoria for various medical and dental appointments. There is a bit of time to see the sights, and many of us choose to shop, eat, and sight-see.

I group of us went to see the Pretoria Zoo.

I had a wonderful time at the Pretoria Zoo, but on this day, sadly, my camera died.  These are the last South African shots you'll see from me for awhile.  (Fortuitously for me, some Peace Corps friends recently purchased a new camera and are passing along their former one to me.  So, I will have another camera somewhat soon, but feel as though I've lost a body part, for now.  I miss having a camera; I miss having the opportunity to show you what I'm seeing. Being able to share my life here in South Africa is my favorite part of my Peace Corps experience.)

I'm not really a zoo person.  Although I love seeing the animals up close, I find zoos inherently sad. While some animals seem well-suited for a caged and protected existence (snakes and fish, for instance), large animals--and especially predators--seem to suffer in the loss of their natural habitat.

I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to see a secretary bird.  (My camera had faded at this point).  I've read a great deal about this bird and thought I would see it in the wild, but never have.  He's amazing.  He's about 4 feet tall and walks around like he's on broken stilts. 

We also approached the Cape Buffalo pen when, much to our surprise, we realized that one of the buffalo cows had just given birth.  We saw a brand-new baby calve!  It was amazing.  The whole herd rallied around the new calf and was licking it and prodding it, trying to make it stand.

I was excited by the reptile exhibit, because I have a keen interest in South African snakes.  South Africa has some of the most poisonous snakes in the world, and I like to have some idea of what to look for, especially when I'm out in the veld hiking or collecting manure. I have seen two of South Africa's poisonous snakes in the wild and am always on the look for the puff adder.  The puff adder is a very poisonous and very common South African snake.  I've never seen a puff adder and have wanted to; I was able to see one in the reptile exhibit so I have a better idea of what he looks like should I find him in the wild.  I also got to see a green mamba and boomslang: two other South African snakes I'm curious about.  I really wanted to see a black mamba, but there wasn't one available for viewing.

One of my favorite exhibits of the zoo happened to be this huge, old fig tree from Australia.  It was massive and full of gnarly roots and lots of limbs and leaves--and figs, of course.  It made me very happy to see many, many people sitting among its roots, the children playing in it, and others relaxing in its shade.

It was also nice to be roaming around the zoo in the springtime, as the flowering plants and trees were in bloom.

And in an ironic moment for me, I realized the Pretoria Zoo had an exhibit of Kodiak bears.  I did not see Kodiak bears when I volunteered in Alaska, as the bears live only on the island of Kodiak, and I was living in a park north of Anchorage.  They are supposedly the biggest and baddest of the brown bears of Alaska, and it felt otherworldly (and sad) to see these great beasts caged and living in a very alien (to them) part of the world.


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