Mindfulness can be fun, especially at the zoo!
Waking up on my 50th birthday, I was ready to have a midlife crisis. UGH….I’m finally old. I had ignored my partner's and my dog’s attempts to wake me up and give me my presents. At around 10, I finally stomped downstairs and on the table was a bag decorated with a ribbon and a card. Too curious to wait, I opened the card. Wow! I was now the proud parent of a Masai giraffe at the Sacramento zoo, 8 minutes from my house. It included a cute picture, membership cards for both my partner and me for a year, four tickets to parents’ night at the zoo, where they close down the zoo and allow only parents to feed the giraffes for free--usually it’s five dollars for two leaves but I have yet to be able to resist--Mother’s Day Brunch at the zoo, a placard to be placed outside the enclosure and 10% off at the gift shop.
I believe in zoos. The animals are well cared for receiving proper food and veterinary care, live longer than in the wild, have a breeding program so they don’t become extinct, and receive intellectual stimulation. Kids and adults learn compassion toward animal, eventually resulting in compassion toward people.
They also do conservation work with the money they earn. There are only 90,000 Masai giraffes remaining in the world because they are being poached Zoos have banded together to educate people in Africa to hunt for animals that are not in danger of becoming extinct. They also teach people that the bones are not really helpful for HIV/AIDS treatment, and reinforce the importance of keeping the giraffes alive.
The orangutan’s habitats are being destroyed by people for skincare, products so the conservationists work to try and stop people from buying products that are farmed in these environments.
It’s particularly important that parents be mindful at the zoo by demonstrating mindfulness and teaching their kids to be mindful at the same time. This would take slowing it down a little, not racing from exhibit to exhibit as some of the kids we saw like to do, pointing out the differences in the colors, textures, sounds, and smells between the animals, and talking about the animals backgrounds posted on the signs at the exhibits. It can also mean going to the zookeeper chats to learn about the animals.
I LOVE giraffes almost as much as I love dogs! When you enter my house you will meet Melissa, my five-and-a-half foot stuffed giraffe, two beautiful giraffe statues, a giraffe to hold toilet paper, a toy, and a metal statue of a mother and her baby. I couldn’t wait to go and pick out my giraffe.
I waited until Saturday and we were greeted by a perfect April Sacramento day. The sun was shining and the temperature was about 75 degrees. We went right in the short members only line and high tailed it to the giraffes. We bounded up the ramp and waited on line to feed our "children". We chose Rocket, the two year-old-sleepy eyed angel. As a Masai giraffe he had a variety of shaped spots on a cream-colored background. However, his father, the towering bully, was not allowing anyone but himself to get fed by the crowd so we could only watch Rocket from a distance. I fed Rocket’s father anyway, his long grey and red rough tongue pulling the green leaves into his mouth. What fun! We then watched the giraffes play with a soccer ball and took tons of pictures. I found out that Rocket and I share a birthday.
We next went to my second favorite animals, the primates. There were orangutans waiting six months to breed. The fourteen-and-a-half-year-old had to turn fifteen before they took her off birth control but the zoo keeper said she and the fifteen-year-old male were flirting and breeding them shouldn't be a problem. They were rust colored and really looked like "hairy apes". They played in the worn black hammocks and on their thick bare tree branches. There were smaller brown chimpanzees swinging from the branches and running after the food that was just put in their enclosure. The baby chimpanzee was unsuccessfully trying to bring an ice cube tray as big as he was up the tree. There was one big ape showing us only his butt.
Next, we went to the lions and tigers. They were enjoying the shade, laying on their sides gorgeous and scary as they let out a big roar.
We visited the flamingo families. It's hard to believe that their beautiful pinks come from what they eat. In the Sacramento zoo, they recently had babies playing with their moms.
Finally, we went to the reptile house. Now, I’m phobic about snakes, especially rattlesnakes so this was pushing my boundaries, but it was a very well-done reptile house with dozens of frogs, spiders, lizards, an alligator, and of course, the dreaded snakes. I found that when checking into my body that my heart wasn’t even racing…good for me.
We returned to the zoo on May 26th, National Giraffe Day (my 4th trip since April) and I bought at,a silent auction, a painting actually painted by a giraffe. They put the paintbrush in her mouth and let her paint by giving her treats after each stroke. It actually turned out beautiful in purples and pinks and they framed it with a picture of Skye, the artist, and some information about her.
We found out that they were sending Rocket, my baby giraffe, to, of all places, New Jersey, as part of the breeding program. He needed to be with males his own age to socialize. They call it a bachelor herd. As my brother said, I hope he doesn’t join the “friggin Mafia.” Hopefull, they’ll video him in his new environment. I’ll miss his sleepy face. We signed his going away card with a picture of a rocket on the front with him in it.
I highly recommend zoo memberships and especially becoming a parent for a particular type of animal you love. It can enhance connectedness and the money goes to a good cause. Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting on a cushion. It can also mean going out in the world and paying particular attention to sights, sounds and smells. The zoo is a great place to practice a type of walking meditation.
All photos from the Sacramento Zoo website