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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Rockets Red Glare

Happy belated Fourth of July.  Last night was a long one.  \

Sure, my friends and I did many of the same things that everyone else did.  Watched fireworks.  Went for a swim.  Ate questionable foods deep-fried or grilled to perfection.  You know.  Independence Day stuff...

Then, there was an extra level of adventure.  Late last night, when the last of the major fireworks were finished (because there will always be yahoos letting random fireworks off all night), I needed to go and check the zoo.

Interestingly enough, a late-night-post-fireworks-check was one of my closest near-death experiences as a zookeeper.  I used to work at a facility with a large (think 30 acre) safari exhibit filled with mixed hoofstock and ratites.  The night of the Fourth, I patrolled the exhibit after the fireworks to make sure that all of the animals were okay - riding on a John Deere Gator, armed with a flashlight that could, with a fresh battery, illuminate the six or seven feet directly in front of me.  Thus prepared, I drove off into the darkness.

The results were... interesting.  The good news was that all of the animals were hale and hearty, with no injuries related to fireworks-induced-panic.  The bad news was that I was able to count them all because they were chasing me.  You see, we fed the animals from the back of the Gator, toting buckets around the enclosure to various feeders, and they had all grown accustomed to chasing after it.  Normally we fed them during the day, of course, but apparently they were flexible in their thinking and adjusted to a night-time Gator visit quite readily.

So this is a little sneak-peek of what it looked like by day (having already dropped a few buckets of grain and therefore losing some of the bigger guys, like the bison and Watusi).  In the lower left corner, you can see my trusty John Deere Gator.

Before I knew it, I was racing through the enclosure as fast as the Gator could take me, pursued by a mixed-company of deer and antelope, camels and zebu, bison and zebra.  When I tried to crest a hill and make my escape, the way out was blocked by a pair of Watusi cattle, their seven-foot horn spread looming as they approached.  What I did learn that night was that, in extraordinary conditions, a John Deere Gator can apparently drive up veritcal surfaces... at least that's how I assume I got out of there.

It's important to remember that the Fourth of July is a scary time for many animals, especially pets.  The day after (so... today), be on the lookout for runaways who may have fled their homes in terror over the fireworks.  Ideally, pet owners should keep their animals inside and sheltered in a secure, comfortable place on the night itself.

As it happened, our zoo animals didn't seem to even notice the commotion.  The zoo is rather wooded, with trees blocking out the lights and deadening much of the noise.  I wonder what they would have made of the spectacle, if they'd been able to see it.

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