Hand feeding Giraffes in Thailand

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 15, 2012

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

I have said it before and I'll say it again, albeit with less and less conviction: I don’t like zoos. But Mason likes them, and I like Mason, so I will continue to go to zoos with him in any city in the world that has one. We took a trek to the Bangkok Zoo (actually called the Dusit Zoo) today, and I was expecting to punch a ticket to satisfy him, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Never have I returned home with more excitement than I did after visiting this one, I was just aching to tell the girls how cool it was. If Barcelona was the wild west of zoos, then this was the OK Corral. So we strapped on our spurs and moseyed in.

The first thing you need to know about the Bangkok Zoo is that it is remarkably cheap. The entry fee is about three bucks, and kids are free. That’s the best Greg pleaser there is. This zoo is more of a day in the park than a day at the zoo just for that reason, and people come by to wander around, look at a couple of animals and then go home, not worrying about seeing it all. The staff doesn’t give you a map unless you ask for one, and the map they give you is a piece of yellow photocopied paper, barely legible, but you can still see how damned big the place is. We went into the shark exhibit right away, which cost us an additional ten baht per person (30 cents). At the entry point a little girl, perhaps seven years old, was handing out fishing poles (!?!), and charged Mason another 10 baht to take one in. At the end of the line was a small piece of fish, tied onto the monofilament line. When we got inside we saw a large tank with perhaps fifty black tip sharks about three feet long swimming around in a pool twenty feet wide and maybe three feet deep. Mason dropped his line into the water and almost immediately 'caught’ a shark. The shark fought at the end of his line for several minutes until the fish was gone. The exhibit had a two-headed turtle in a small case, swimming around and not seeming to be confused in the slightest. We looked at a pretty good marine display of particularly energetic sea life before we left the dank, hot and crowded display area that really was too small. But to catch a shark in a zoo? Who’s not to love that? Perhaps PETA?

After looking at many other ordinary animals we went to the hippo pool where three hippos were lounging around like hippos do. We were at the edge of the water outside of the pool, peering through the glass when one of the hippos lifted his large and ugly head up and opened his mouth fully. We looked up and saw one of the zoo visitors throwing large chunks of bread at the beast. With nobody to police the zoo, several kids took it upon themselves to feed these guys one handful of bread at a time.

We later saw a guy throwing chunks of ice at crocodiles. I was curious to how much somebody can get away with tormenting the animals here, so I glanced at the security guard, curious to see what he would do. As it turned out, he came over to watch and laugh at the reaction of the crocodiles, not caring to tell the tormentor what he was doing was somehow wrong.

A guy walked by us a few minutes later with a large Burmese python slung around his neck, and I had assumed he was charging money for the customers to get photos with the snakes. But the guy apparently worked for the zoo, I had concluded this because he never asked us for money. I asked Mason if he wanted to pose with the snake and he gave me an enthusiastic nod, and so the guy draped it around Mason’s head. Another guy had another python and Mason did the same with that one. Things were looking up.

We decided to have a break and sit in the grass for a while with ice cream cones and a bottle of water. It was a pretty hot day and we needed to have some time in the shade. A guy walked by with a huge stainless steel pan full of something we couldn’t see, banging another pan against it, and I was getting pretty annoyed, wondering why he was doing that. But then he put the pan down on the grass and about twenty huge Siberian Cranes swooped in from the trees (natives, I gather) and started gobbling up the fish. It turned into one hell of a frenzy and we had to get out of there. These were very large birds with six inch beaks fighting with each other over fish. They needed space.

We walked through a bomb shelter that was left over from the second world war, got our feet attacked by geese on ‘bird island’, and then found a large lake with six foot long swimming water monitors looking like crocodiles on the surface and edges of the lake. Mason got up next to them and spent probably an hour within a foot from them, studying their features and their movements while I stood there amazed and shot video. These are the second largest monitor lizards in the world after the Komodo Dragons, and they were running loose in the Bangkok Zoo, eating whatever was lying around. They appeared to be harmless, but nothing I could see would have given me a clue one way or another.

We saw many other exhibits that were more of the garden variety and then we got a God-awful lunch of KFC that neither of us could eat. I asked Mason what he wanted to do last, and he told me that he wanted to see the African animals, all huddled together in one large area (except the lions and hyenas). We were looking at the giraffes when somebody on the level above, level with the giraffes’ heads, was feeding a giraffe string beans. One of the beans fell down and I reached inside the barrier and picked it up. The giraffe looked at me with longing in his eyes, and I held it up, so he stuck out his crazy long tongue and slurped it right out of my hand. Mason got excited, so we started wandering around the zoo looking for somebody who sold them, to no avail. The person who brought them had apparently entered the park with them, and I wanted to go to a store and get my own. Instead, I found a tree that had particularly tasty looking leaves, grabbed a handful of those leaves and shoved them into my pocket. Then we went back to the giraffe exhibit. I handed a leaf to Mason who held it out to attract a giraffe. When a large male finally showed up, he walked over and stuck out his tongue and took it from Mason’s hand. I gave the rest to Mason who offered the leaves to the giraffe one at a time, to the complete amazement of the crowd. Suddenly all the other zoo visitors ran around to the foliage out of reach of the giraffes and started tearing limbs and leaves off trees to feed the giraffe. Mason and I backed away slowly, hoping the officials wouldn’t know who started the feeding frenzy. Nobody cared.

We took a tuk-tuk home laughing about everything that happened that day. Mason said to me (and this one is one I will never forget): "See dad? Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do to have fun". I couldn’t have said it better myself.
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