Now that April the Giraffe has finally given birth, it set me thinking about my favorite exotic animals, so I came up with this list.
Let’s set aside for a moment any negative thoughts about zoos and think about our childhood when we might visit such an institution to see a collection of exotic animals.
Some were majestic, some were beautiful and some were absolutely terrifying, but the kid in all of us wanted to get a good luck at each.
Which were the first ones you wanted to see?
I made a list of my favorite exotic animals here, with a little help on some of the animal facts from Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo:
I graduated from the University of South Carolina, whose main rival is Clemson University. Clemson’s mascot is the tiger, so I shouldn’t have any love for the big cat. But I’ve always believed it’s one of the most beautiful animals on the planet. On two different occasions, I actually held a tiger cub — one orange with black stripes and one white with black stripes, and they purr at you when you rub their belly just like a house cat. Their coat — at least as a cub — is like velvet. They’ve always been a favorite.
2. Polar Bears
When I grew up, the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, had a great polar bear exhibit that included an underground area in which you could watch the polar bears swim through a glass wall. I’
ve always liked polar bears and watching them frolic in and out of the water only made them seem that much more loveable.
What I love most about Panda bears, besides the fact that they look like you could just snuggle up to them, is that most of the time when there’s video of them, sooner or later, they’ll clumsily fall over something. That apparent lack of coordination makes them that much cuter.
Years ago, I shot footage at a Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus “Touch Tour” for blind and sight-impaired children that my station helped host. While I was there, I took advantage of the opportunity to actually pet an elephant. It was a gentle animal that made eye contact with me and seemed to “smile” at me. Most fascinating to me was its skin: it was the texture of a worn leather jacket with fine toothbrush bristles.
The king of the jungle may not have topped my list, but I’ve always loved lions. If I were in the wild somewhere and I heard that roar, I’d definitely know that whatever could make that sound was not an animal to be messed with!
When April the Giraffe finally gave birth to her calf, just as I warned, it was a horrifying moment: giraffes don’t lie down when they’re giving birth in the wild because it could make them vulnerable to predators. That means this 15-foot tall giraffe stands while the calf is being delivered, which, in turn, means the poor calf has a drop of about six feet straight to the ground. You have to give a giraffe credit, though: if they can survive that at their first moment in the world, they must be a lot tougher than they may look.
7. Sea Lions
Sea lions differ from seals in that the sea lions can “walk” on land using their large flippers. They also have a loud “bark,” something else I remember from my childhood visits to Riverbanks Zoo. I loved watching the zookeepers feed the sea lions: the sea lions would bark for their fish and usually catch them. When they didn’t, we’d watch them dive into the water habitat to retrieve them, then climb back onto the manmade rock formations to await their next bite. They were always fun to watch.
One of the things I like most about penguins is that famous “waddle” as they walk on land. Like the polar bear exhibit, Riverbanks Zoo’s birdhouse had glass tanks that allowed visitors to watch the penguins go for a swim.
For this distant cousin of the horse, the distinctive black and white stripes are as unique as the ridges of a human fingerprint. Part of the appeal to watching zebras roam is realizing how each one can possibly be so different.
I’ve always been fascinated by the kangaroo’s physiology: it’s so unusual to me that it mostly hops wherever it goes and that it manages to keep its joey in its pouch. Sometimes, nature can be very clever.
That’s my 10. What do you think?