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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Behind the Scenes at a Zoo

Galapagos Tortoise

A trip to the zoo is always a fun experience. Yesterday we participated in our first behind-the-scenes tour of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, and have already put it in our list of favorite adventures.

We started with coffee, juice and pastries as we learned about the zoo. Then we began our walk through the working sections. We saw the food storage, the animal hospital, the quarantine zones and discovered other facets of life in a zoo. Jaime, our guide, told us about the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) certification program. Gladys Porter Zoo is proud of their long history of accreditation with the organization. In terms of budget and size, the zoo is considered “middle-sized.” Close to 60% of the species in the zoo are considered endangered, and conservation is an important aspect of their work.

Baby Galapagos Tortoise
Our first big adventure was to hang out with the Galapagos tortoises in their habitat and hand feed them (they love celery). One tortoise, at the ripe old age of 108, still wanted as much celery as our group could feed him. Later, Jaime showed us a 2-year-old that was about five inches long. They grow from the size of a golf ball as hatchlings to several hundred pounds and up to six feet long as adults.

These tortoises are nearly extinct in the wild, but several U. S. zoos are successfully breeding them in captivity.

The next highlight was feeding the exotic birds including the scarlet ibis and the roseate spoonbill. They eat mostly seafood and small crustaceans. Both species derive their stunning color from their diet.
Eating their greens

Then we had the thrill of feeding a couple of hungry giraffes. Each of us offered them a few greens, which they gobbled like candy. There was one baby, born last October. He stayed in the background.
Our lunch visitor

After our tour of the zoo, we went back to the education center, where we were treated to a delicious lunch and a visit by a baby Galapagos tortoise and a flamingo.

As we enjoyed photographing the flamingo, we learned what working in a zoo really involves – armed with paper towels, the staff spent their time cleaning up after that beautiful bird.

If you’ve never taken a behind-the-scenes tour, we’d highly recommend it. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, and we loved the close-up encounters with the animals. If you’re in Brownsville, check out the Gladys Porter Zoo. If you’re in other parts of the country, check your local zoo to see if they offer similar programs.