Phoenix Zoo

Meerkat Buddies
db4916 via Compfight

We left Tucson and caught an early bus to Phoenix. Both Dan and I loved Tucson. It is physically so beautiful surrounded by gorgeous mountains – open and not crowded. Phoenix is different. Although it is not dirty as are many big cities, it has none of the charm of Tucson. We got a very nice motel near the center of town and was astounded to find that the zoo is about fourteen miles away. It sure did not seem that on the map. Believe it or not, until yesterday, there was no bus service to the zoo. You either used your car, taxi, or you did not go. Imagine how lucky that for 40 cents I could go today.

The last bus left the zoo at 3:40 PM so I decided to go for a couple of hours today just to see it and return tomorrow to spend the entire day there. I got friendly with the bus driver who took me there (Dan decided not to go today) and he told me he had driven a bus previously in the Pacific Northwest – that he loved it there, but the climate was damp and his wife who had arthritis suffered too much –so that is why they moved here. He has been here for three years and does not like it at all. He said everything here is keyed to people with money and the rest of the world can go hang. I guess I felt that about the place also.

Anyhow I finally arrived at the zoo and was very pleased with it. I did as I always do – took a tour around the grounds to get an idea of the layout. It is set in a desert setting – as is the natural environment. It is not as lush – tree wise as the zoos in Texas, but it has its own charm. Of course their collection of Arabian Oryx is the largest in the world. From the original group of nine they have raised 80 young. Some of whom are on loan to the San Diego zoo. The tour guide said that there are only about 200 left in the world. They have a large children’s zoo, but unfortunately the nursery was closed for repairs, but I was impressed with their brooder exhibit showing eggs just hatching , and the chick from one week to four weeks. – plus also adult chickens in the exhibit.

"mother and daughter"
roger smith via Compfight

They have a delightful gibbon Island exhibit outside of the children’s zoo – a lovely green island with palm trees surrounded by water, alive with a variety of ducks. At first the island seemed deserted, then I noticed an alpine goat grazing. As I looked into the mass of trees, I saw a motion and a beige gibbon dashed through the trees and grabbed an exercise bar below and started swinging arm over arm (brachiation) as is their way. He then sat on a branch and looked at me as if wondering what I was doing.

Another fun exhibit was the island of spider monkeys, quite a family group – one mother with a baby attached to her abdomen and many others. Although I had read that spider monkeys spend much time in the trees, these defied the books. They seemed to enjoy the rolling green grass as much as the trees – spending much time on the grass lolling in it and grooming each other. I was really quite surprised to see the mother, carrying her baby, come over to the water’s edge, lean over and drink it and then leap from rock to rock to reach again the water’s edge. She did not seem a bit afraid of the water. She grabbed what seemed like monkey chow from the water – rolled it as I have seen Suck-a-toe do and then eat it. One of the monkeys sat there – just observing me and the other people who were with me. The ducks swam around unconcerned, but periodically I saw a duck climb the rocks on to the island – walk around and then return to the water. I also noticed that some of the spider monkeys were brown and some were black. I could have watched all day!

The orangutan exhibit was interesting to me in the fact that this is the first time I have ever seen the adult male really play with his offspring. This big male kept grabbing their feet, rolling with them and obviously making the young ones very happy. The female left them and took some green shoots. She arranged the shoots in a type of nest. I found that interesting. Although here in the zoo she had a sleeping area, her natural instinct to build a nightly nest out of grasses was obviously with her.

I did not want to leave but had to catch the bus going back. When I got to the bus I saw that the driver was a young lady. That was highly unusual at that time. She had to wait before returning and we started to chat. She has been driving the bus for a year and loves it. I asked her what special training she needed for driving it. She said her whole past experience was driving her own “Vega”. She was given the bus, taken into a parking lot and told to practice. She did and that is all the training she had. Why did she decide to drive a bus, I asked. Well, she had been a nurses’ aid and an office worker. When she came to Phoenix, she could not get an apartment under $330 a month. She needed to make more money. “So why not drive a bus”, she said. And that is how it happened. There are 200 bus drivers in Phoenix – 25% of whom are women, as she said “We’re finally creeping in”.

Thanks to the new bus service we arrived at the zoo at 9:20 AM and immediately walked into the office and presented our case. The person we spoke to in the office called the education department. It turned out that this particular morning was an orientation for volunteers for the docent program. I met Harry Jones who is a professional zoologist who has just been put in charge of education and Charlotte Eberhard who is a senior docent who conducted the class. They asked me if I would like to attend the orientation and obviously this would give me a real insight into what they do, so I accepted eagerly. For me personally it would have been better without their meeting, because that was hardly the atmosphere to present my story, but that is how it happened and I had to go along with it. I learned a lot at the orientation. There must have been 50 volunteers – among them a few men. The Phoenix zoo is the only zoo I have ever heard of that gets no public funding. The gate receipts, snack stands and gift shop is the only way to raise money for the animals and the salaries of the staff.

They have an association similar to GLAZA which costs $l4.00 a year for membership. The land for the zoo is rented from the city for $1.00 a year. All capitol improvements are made by the Phoenix Zoo Auxiliary which is a fund raising institution. Some of their people come from the docent program. They have a new director who came in July 1978 and already he has put in many improvements. He is a financial man who apparently is what they need here.

Their programs are really very good. The school programs start at 9:30 AM and could run for two hours. The docents are required to put in at least one morning a week. The docent program is coordinated with the schools program. They give a puppet show for k-3. The docents make the puppets which are a bird, a skunk and other animals and they put on the show behind the curtain and when the show is over they bring out the live animals which absolutely thrills the children. By the way, the skunk that they use has been de-scented!

Watchful Young Barn Owl
Bill Gracey via Compfight

As part of their school program one of the creatures they feature is a barn owl called Simon who is nocturnal. He has silent flight and has outstanding vision. There is also a boa constrictor, that they feature. The children are encouraged to touch everything. Another fascinating part of the ecology show was the use of the skull of a horse. They use other skulls also. They showed how by the type of teeth you can tell what the animal eats – no canines, but grinding teeth. That means it eats grass. The long nose shows a keen sense of smell and the eyes on the side means the creature is constantly looking for a predator as against a monkey which has frontal or stereoscopic vision. The small area for the brain shows that it is not very smart and works mostly by instinct.

As part of the demonstration the docents brought in a coyote which had been raised as a cub at the zoo. They are difficult to raise and are extremely nervous. They will eat almost anything. This one had come from the wild as a baby. The coyote is spayed. If not they could not handle it at all. They talked a little about the Oryx. These animals have been at the zoo for about fifteen years since 1963.

It was 1:00 PM and the orientation was over. I was really impressed with it. What I like so much about all the zoos we visited is the fact that docents go into the schools to educate the youth on the world around us which includes animals, and plants and the general ecology. In Los Angeles I was the only one who was doing that. The Los Angeles zoo has very good programs in the zoo itself, but they did nothing to reach out to the schools. When I started to talk about Suck-a-toe in 1974 and the fact that he was an endangered species, not even the teachers knew that the habitat around the world was being destroyed or that there were endangered species. It seems the rest of the country was way ahead of us!

The Phoenix zoo is famous for the Arabian Oryx and what astounded me was when I walked into the gift shop of the zoo, they were featuring a female gorilla and her baby. My question was why were they not featuring the Arabian Oryx for which the zoo was famous. It seems that the general public was much more interested in gorillas – probably because they are so human in their actions. When this baby gorilla was born they sent out a notice to the public that they wanted a name for the baby. They got 20,000 responses! I guess a baby Oryx just does not have the charm of a human like creature.

After the orientation and a visit to the gift shop we spent the rest of the day visiting what we had not seen of the zoo. I saw a pair of De Brazzas who were in beautiful shape, but never got to see the gorillas. The weather was 106 degrees and gorillas don’t like that kind of heat. They were all in the back, asleep, according to the keeper I spoke to.

This was the last of the zoos we visited. From talking to people in the educational division of all of the zoos we visited I got the distinct feeling that these people were very much in agreement with my belief that animals have feelings – that they suffer emotional pain, and joy and perhaps many other human emotions. Dr. Thomas, in my opinion stands alone in his belief that animals have no humanity.

This trip was so enriching. I came back if anything more determined than ever to continue my work in the schools.. My work with Suck-a-toe and Missy had so enriched my life. I was determined to continue my mission and to share with children the joys I had received.

Photo by Martin_PHX