We woke this morning to a phone call from Lori about seeing the tiger cub she had spoken about last night. She told us that she was involved with the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, which was also know also known as The Little Zoo That Could from Animal Planet. She told us that we had an 11 o'clock appointment to see the tiger cub. Luckily, Bikini Bottom was just a few miles away from the zoo. We met Lori and she introduced us to Patti, who was the curator of this fun little menagerie. We talked to Patti, who introduced us to Jenny, who told us that not only were we going to be able to play with the cubs, but also we were going to get a V.I.P. tour of the zoo. We were going to be able to see the tiger cubs, adult tigers, lemurs, pythons, among the many animals that were at the zoo.
The tiger cubs are one of the main attractions at the zoo. They have an interactive experience for visitors to the zoo. When we got to the zoo we found a couple people waiting ahead of us, so while we waited Jenny decided to give us the "official" tour and then we would circle back to the tiger cubs. Our first stop on the tour was the lemur cage. Many of you have become familiarized with lemurs from the movie Madagascar. We find them to be fun loving, dancing creatures. Such is not the case in real life; they do not dance. Tod and I entered the cage with "Mike" and we were told that lemurs are somewhat skiddish. Mike (not sure if that is his real name, but he knows who “he” is) told us about lemurs as we sat in the closed in, can't get out without assistance, cage. So we should find some place to sit and allow them to come to us. "Mike" told us that lemurs, along with other mammalian species, have no sphincter control; so when they have to "go", they just go. There is no clench to find a bathroom; it just happens. And when it is time to go, they tend to run to the top of the enclosure. When you see them going to the top of the enclosure, chances are they will be going soon.
Tod and I found seats, myself next to "Mike", I was greeted with a steaming pile of lemur poo directly deposited upon my thigh. ("Mike" didn't say this, but I took it this way: a pile of poo on your thigh from a lemur is like a, "Hey, how do you do? Good to meet you.") "Mike" being the ever prepared, potential Boy Scout that he was, had a Tupperware tin that was filled with the necessary accoutrement including paper towels, baby wipes, etc., to remove anything that needed to be removed from a person. All that remained was a brown stain on my pants from that lemur “hello”
Tod was the popular one in the lemur enclosure; they seemed to shy away from me. "Mike" did his best to win them over to me. Ryan, our DP, came into the enclosure and filmed us with the lemurs. They were more fascinated with the cameras than by us, making Ryan the most popular man in the enclosure.
Fully cleaned up and lemured out, we left the enclosure and Jenny asked us if we would like to have an experience with the pythons. Both of us being slightly apprehensive, but me taking the forefront, I said yes of course. We then were taken to something that resembled a small amphitheater and were seated. Jenny left us to our own imaginations as we thought about what was to come. Out of nowhere, she and her coworker appeared with two pythons. One, an albino python that looked kind of like a banana milkshake, and the other which looked like it belonged in just about any tropical forest you might find; Tod and I seated, scared out of our underpants, and had these pythons placed upon us. Again, Tod seemed to be the victor in the battle of the brothers. His python seemed to take to him like flies to honey, whereas mine, let's hope, had just eaten a bad meal of rabbits and so was a bit drooly and was freaking me out.
After unsuccessfully controlling my python's drooling habits, they took him back and I shared in the experience of Tod's, more well tamed, python until we were ready to move on to the next curiosity - The kangaroos...
Jenny led us over to the kangaroo habitat and we were introduced to the joeys. We were able to have the experience of looking at them, touching them, and *bonus* we got to stick our fingers in their pouch. A completely weird feeling, indeed, knowing that these pouches expand as these joeys are growing and going and hanging out on the outside, because it seemed that these pouches were rather small in size until one realizes that a three or four month old baby kangaroo hangs out in there.
From there, Jenny produced two baby bottles full of milk and told us that we were going to feed some other tigers. She took us to a cage near the back of the zoo and introduced us to two adult tigers; one a standard Bengal tiger and the other a white Bengal tiger, almost seemingly full-grown, three to four years old. It was amazing being only a chain link fence between myself and a creature that is called a man eater and seeing the thing that connects all felines: a sense of co-dependency between ourselves and all animals. Almost as if I could enter the cage with them and not be hurt, but I knew that any interaction with them other than what I was told to do (i.e. the bottle feeding) could result in horrible things happening to me. Looking at these beautiful creatures taken from their homes and being domesticated (for lack of a better term) was both enviable and beautiful in the sense that I actually had the chance to be this close to them but also sad because they shouldn't be caged as such. It was a truly tremendous experience. It was amazing to just be there, feeding them. While they were drinking the milk from the bottles, my brother and I reached fingers through the fence and while they were distracted by our superior bottle feeding techniques, petted them just for the sake of being able to say that we done so. Not many people can say they have been able to do the same.
Jenny took us around the back of the zoo, where we had a chance to bottle feed two more tigers that were more rare tigers than the bengals, which was amazing. Little known fact, unlike many other felines, tigers are unable to purr. Instead they have a breathy utterance that they make. Jenny told us they are able to differentiate between different humans based on this utterance that the humans make. It was their version of a purr. Tod and I attempted to “purr” at them so that they might recognize them should we ever come back. Again, another truly amazing experience to be this close to these majestic creatures.
We circled back to the front of the zoo to get in to have the actual physical interaction with the white bengal tiger club, which was named Delhi. But while we were waiting for a family that was currently in the pen, Patti came up to us with a Capuchin monkey named Luka. Patti gave me his “baby,” a stuffed horsed that Luka carried around with him at all times. She also told me not to be concerned when Luka peed on me, it was his way of liking me and marking me as his property. Over the next 10 minutes, I got peed on quite a bit. But it was great to sit and play with Luka. Much like a small child, he was very inquisitive, and would run around the little circle of people that had gathered to see him, climbing up their legs and onto their shoulders. I felt like Ross from Friends.
Tod, the crew, and I finally were able to go into the enclosure with Delhi. It was very funny because a baby tiger, unlike most domesticated cats, was easy to attract but you had to keep in mind that this little baby creature, unlike domesticated cats, was able to kill and eat us. We each ended us with bites and scratches from Delhi as a kind of reminder that no matter how cute an animal might look, we must remember that underneath that lies a true animal; capable of potentially killing us. It was tremendous being with it, interacting with it, and knowing that in a few years this seemingly docile and psuedo domesticated creature would not be able to interact with people again (for fear that an interaction with them might end absolutely horribly). Strewn around the enclosure were the various toys that one might find laying all over the house of a cat owner (balls of yarn, toys, etc.) but still there was a sense of something bigger.
It was amazing to have one of the toys that Jenny told us to use to attract the tiger and seeing it begin to stalk you, much as a house cat might do, and something animalistic in the wild. I had a towel that I was dangling for it, hunched down, and we saw it begin it's prowl to attack. Slowly, it crept forward until it got into striking distance and then it went and it ran past the towel I had in my hands. It ran between myself and the fence behind me. And as you think with babies of any kind, you think it's safe and they will stop once it is far behind and it has gone beyond the scope of what was going to happen. But Delhi jumped from behind me and grabbed me with one claw on either side of me and began to chew on my back. I immediately stood up and had the thought of pain in my back and wanting to check it. Having two thoughts about it: first being, don't show pain to other people; second being, I hope I am bleeding profusely and just don't know it. When I lifted my shirt, I saw a two or three inch scar from where Delhi had bitten me. Luckily not a bad wound, more like a bad scratch. Each of us left that enclosure with some memento from Delhi like I had. But I was the King, after all, I had been pooped on by a Lemur, peed on by a Capuchin, and bitten by a Bengal Tiger. Ah, the stories I can tell, and which I just did.
After we finished with Delhi, we thanked Patti and Jenny for all that they had given us and we left to move on. When we got out to the car, we realized that we had spent five hours in this zoo; experiencing everything they had to show us and that we were going to have to revisit our entire schedule for the next five days. Lori told us about a nearby restaurant that was owned by Jimmy Buffet’s daughter, Lucy, where we could grab some dinner and talk about the next few days. We got to Lulu’s at Homeport Marina, and grabbed some food and ate before we started the talk, better to be full stomached and have the talk then not. We all decided that, as much as we wanted to make our way down Florida to Key West, it just didn’t seem possible anymore. We were supposed to be in Sarasota, Florida, by the end of today and it would have had us on the road until 1am if we tried to make up the distance. And then to get to Key West would have been another 7-8 hour drive tomorrow.
Add to the mix, that Ryan, our DP, had been getting quite a few calls from his wife about some issues going on at home, and it seemed like we were going to need to give him some time to go home and fix what was going on. Luckily he lives in Bradenton. Florida. With great sadness, for me especially, I made the decision to cut Key West from our trip, and Tod and I gave the crew the next couple of days off, the days we would have spent travelling down and back up through Florida. We agreed to meet up in or near Jacksonville, Florida, on the afternoon/night of the 10th.
After we finished our meals, we set off on our separate ways. The crew down south to Bradenton, and Tod and I east towards Jacksonville. Feeling a little down about losing Key West, Tod saw a Blockbuster, and thought that I might need some therapy. We stopped and looked around to see if there were movies that we needed to buy, something to take my mind off of what we had to do. I know, tough decisions for us to have to make, right? After looking around for a bit, and feeling a little better about everything, we got on the road towards Jacksonville.
As the sun began to set, we left Gulf Shores, and headed into Florida, to make it as far as we could before we called it a night. We ended up grabbing a hotel room in Chipley, Florida.