75 Years of Trying to Keep Animals Alive

For the past 10 years, I have taken the kids to Utah for summer vacation. We make our annual exodus to “Camp Grandma” for a number of reasons. The first is that after 10 months of managing schoolwork, lessons, activities, and social calendars for four children, some part of me…a big part…craves a break. The second is that the state is full of adoring relatives who love my kids and are happy to share their talents, skills, and affection with them. The chief among these doting family members is Tom’s mom, Lorelie, who serves as activities director and is tireless in her efforts to get my kids off their butts and out of the house. With no more than a moment’s notice she can throw together a field trip, art project, or spelunking expedition complete with snacks and a craft.

One of last week’s outings was a visit to Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo. The zoo is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary and has staged an exhibit to herald this significant accomplishment. We didn’t venture into the auditorium where the exhibit was housed because we doubted it would have much to engage the 3-year-olds’ attention. I checked out the summary online and it turns out the highlight was something we’ve already seen….the stuffed carcass of Shasta the Liger (see It’s Pretty Much Kieran’s Favorite Animal) who normally lives at BYU’s Bean Museum. The other intriguing piece of information I gleaned from the website was that one of the Hogle’s former directors perished from a puff adder bite. Ouch! The hazards of zookeeping!

What the exhibit failed to feature and what the Hogle is more commonly known for is its checkered past with animal mortality. As it turns out, caring for exotic beasts is not as simple as one might think. If I can kill a goldfish which requires nothing more than a few flakes of food and a clean bowl by looking at it, how easy is it to kill an elephant which requires a carefully maintained space, a complex, nutritionally balanced diet, and a strict skin care regime? The Hogle learned that simply letting a drugged pachyderm lie down for too long can prove too much for its fragile system. (That one wasn’t really the Hogle’s fault.) Within the past decade, wolves, chimpanzees, a gorilla, and a cheetah have all escaped, and giraffes, a tiger cub, a polar bear, and other elephants have all suffered questionable demises. Despite these setbacks, the small menagerie is working hard to overcome the spectre of death that clouds its new $7 million gate.

With the front entrance and parking lot swamped with visitors, we entered through the apparently secret back gate. Asher, McKane and I met up with the rest of the group at the Cat Wok Cafe, where the menu boasted tasty Asian delicacies such as grilled sweet and sour chicken, tofu with plum sauce, and heaping bowls of sticky rice. Sticky rice? I love sticky rice. I asked the teenaged clerk, “Is it really sticky rice?” “Yes,” he answered and looked at me like I was from another planet. “Does it come wrapped in a banana leaf?” “No,” and again the look. “But it’s really sticky rice?” “Yeah.” Thirty seconds later he handed me a black styrofoam bowl filled with Minute Rice, not two grains of which were stuck together. I pointedly declined his bland, pseudo-Asian fare and contented myself with a $2 pretzel instead.

The incident didn’t bode well, but we soldiered on, open to all the Hogle had to offer. Blissfully unaware of the establishment’s shady past, the kids had a blast searching for all the animals grandma included on their take-along worksheet. They found giraffes, zebras, wolves, bears and peccaries (which were my favorite). We rode the train, ate $1 snowcones, posed in front of the massive metal elephant, and ambled through the butterfly garden. A good time was had by all. There were no lines, the distances between venues were small, and the heat was bearable. All in all, the trip to the Hogle proved a worthy endeavor. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I get to Thailand for some good sticky rice.

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This little guy was awake, but can you tell they’re a little nervous?

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3 thoughts on “75 Years of Trying to Keep Animals Alive

  1. Andrus!!! I cannot believe you actually thought that the Zoo sold real sticky rice!!! I mean come on now… Its like expecting McDonalds to use REAL white meat.

  2. I’ve enjoyed your writings. Despite the checkered zoo’s past with animal deaths, this has bee a banner year for births. This year alone the following animals have were born at the zoo: a female baby elephant, three male Amur (Siberian) tiger cubs, a baby giraffe, orangutan, snow leopard cub, a highly endangered simese crocodile (one of only two born in US zoos), as well as other monkeys and small animals. I have gone three times in the past two months. Make sure to visit when in UT again.

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