ENTHUSE. ENAGE. EDUCATE. ENTERTAIN. EXPLORE.
Our Best Day Ever At The Zoo
Years ago…years…was the first time we ever saw an okapi, and it happened at Denver Zoo. We were awed into silence as we stared at this beautiful creature with the striking zebra stripes, luxurious chocolate coat, and huge brown eyes. How something so beautiful could be endangered was staggering. As the sun gleamed on his shinny coat we finally spoke to each other.
“I wonder what it would feel like to touch him?”
“I was wondering the same thing, but of course we will never know.”
A Denver Zoo keeper once described an okapi felt like a velvet sofa. Looking at its chocolate fur it is easy to relate to the description and we accepted that would be as close as we would ever come to ever touching one.
Decades later when we decided to create Animal Blogging With Dill The Cat, of all the hundreds of options in selecting the first animal photograph to be published on Dill (besides Dill herself) it was the memory of seeing the first okapi that made the decision. It was also the okapi that inspired the first video we created, Zebras, Everywhere.
Not long ago Rachel from Denver Zoo called and left a phone message. She offered us the opportunity to have a private tour of the zoo and see a few animals including the okapi. From Denver Zoo Matt suggested the tour to Rachel, Connie joined in, with Loren and Robin the keepers of the okapi and Dave, the keeper of Mahali the hippopotamus. Matt and Connie were off the day of the tour and yet they came.
B r e a t h l e s s.
We were breathless into silence for the invitation coupled with the realization one can never say what they will never know. We listened to her phone message a few times.
All these years, decades, we always believed it would have been a wonderful feeling to touch an okapi, and though it was, at the same time we were wrong. It was more than that. It was humbling and a honor. Loren spoke about how the okapi was endangered, very few zoos in the world had them, and the responsibility to be their keepers. Robin spoke to me about how much she enjoyed and appreciated working at Denver Zoo. I could hear the tone of passion in both of their voices. What we have dreamed of, they do everyday. The words I wanted to express eluded me.
The okapi was turning around to look when we entering the private area where he resides from the public.
This okapi came to the gate where we fed him some kale and lettuce, and touched him.
No matter how many times one has seen a hippo, sometimes called a river horse, with his mouth opened, its like looking at a hippo for the first time.
Next we visited Dave the keeper of Mahali. He was teaching Mahali behaviors that would help the staff care for him and to keep Mahali mentally enthused. For all his spots, Mahali's name in Swahili means spots. We were given an opportunity most people on the planet will never have, to be a part of Dave’s training by helping to feed Mahali apples.
How gracious and generous we were given not only a beautiful experience and but memories woven into the fabric that defines us. It was beyond amazing how Dave was able to relate/train Mahali. Our plans are to one day publish all the photographs S. Mason has ever taken with animals. The one with Mahali rising up to be fed by Dave with S. Mason standing with him...oh my goodness. And again the words I wanted to express were evasive.
Rachel capsulated the visit in one perfect word. “Magical.” It was. Extremely so.
In the days after the tour, still grasping and absorbing what happened, we talked about how our experience was more than with the animals but also with some very special people sharing their passion. We also talked about how Denver Zoo is a place to connect to one's passion of animals, and to the world itself. It is a place of education, discovery, and Denver Zoo salts awareness. It is a sanctuary, a conservation, a testimony it is not enough to be human, we must be humane. As all worthy zoos Denver Zoo is all of these things and more.
Then came the realization, and it rippled, and the evasive words actualized--For all that it does Denver Zoo is another form of an ark.