Sunday, September 03, 2006

Animal Crackers

Things I learnt about animals last weekend:

Rhinoceros' closest relative is the horse. Hippopotamus' closest relative is the whale. Whale!

The Melbourne bird of prey is the whistling kite.

Giraffe actually do make a noise but it's outside the range of human hearing. Too deep, apparently. Makes sense, with that long neck - long bass vocal chords.

There are no Mongolian horses left in the wild but they breed easily in captivity. The reason they are extinct in the wild is that they interbreed so easily with domesticated horses, they keep breeding themselves out of existence.

Young rhinoceros have to have an older male mentor or else they never learn how to have sex. They get aroused but don't know what to do with their tackle. Didn't think to ask how big a rhinoceros penis was.

Zebras are quite happy to hang out with rhinoceros but giraffe don't like rhinos much.

Giraffe get depressed after a member of their herd dies. Well, we don't know for sure they're depressed, admitted the ranger, but they certainly behave differently.

The biggest threat to animals is loss of habitat (I knew that already).

There are more than 160 different breeds of antelope. Antelope horns are made of keratin - same stuff as your nails & hair.

Cheetahs can't eat people. We're too big. They'll have a swipe at a child though.

If you see zebras locked in combat, don't yell 'ooh they're fighting' so the whole bus turns to look. Theyr'e most likely having marital relations. Or extramarital, for all I know.

On the weekend we camped at the Werribee Open Range Zoo. For the purposes of this entry we are going to sublimate any ethical concerns about zoos and focus on how important they are for breeding program for endangered animals. Anyway it was Liz's 40th birthday and if she wants to have it in a zoo then who am I to disappoint her? Liz is an old girlfriend of Lovergirl's; they met in Alice Springs as wild young things and drove all over Australia wreaking havoc. Liz still strikes me as pretty wild but now she is with the stable Jaguar (J picked this pseudonym herself - her real name is much more prosaic but as she is lying on the couch across the lounge from me here I gave her the opportunity to choose her own) and they have been together forever. Liz & Jaguar live in Melbourne in my sister's house.

If you have to live in a zoo, I reckon an open range zoo is the place to be. As tourists, you turn up and they herd you into a minibus and drive you around so the animals can gawp at you. They're trying to recreate the African grasslands so there are lots of grazing animals all hanging out together over about five hundred acres. The cats are in a separate section to avoid unexpected losses of herbivores - and tourists, I expect.

After we'd let everyone have a good look at us they took us up to the African themed campsite with our four star tents. We sat and watched the sun go down over the African savannah with glasses of wine, while the rangers cooked our African style barbeque.

There were sixteen of us on the tour - all couples except for Sheryl, an immaculately groomed blonde from Albert Park who had brought along her elderly Irish mother for her birthday. Mumsy, as Sheryl called her, was hating the experience I think, and wishing she had been taken to the Hilton and a show. All the couples kept to themselves. I thought the clique of lesbians might have scared them; but perhaps they were all keen to have a romantic night alone with the wild animals.

I expected composting toilets, seeing as we were in the wilds of Africa. The rangers said they had them initially, but people would ring and cancel their overnight stays when they realised. 'We're trying to create an upmarket experience here, and you have to give people what they want,' explained Adam the dour old ranger. Give the people what they want! The world is drying to a dust bowl and people demand flushing toilets. Hard to believe.

Liam the cheerful young ranger was a smart young casual doing a PhD in human responses to animals (Adam snorted ever so subtly when Liam said 'PhD')- something along the lines of how to promote attitude change to then create behavioural change.

We sat around the campfire, toasted marshamallows and told bad ghost stories. The lions roared a couple of times as the sun set over the African savannah (read: plains of Werribee)

No comments: