Wildlife Wednesday: Lisa's Dream Animals




Thank you for tuning in to my weekly Wildlife Wednesday series! I post nature-related articles the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, and I answer "Ask a Zookeeper" questions the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

Today's question comes from the amazing (and amazingly busy) Alex J. Cavanaugh, who somehow manages to balance writing (two published novels to date!), blogging and regularly commenting on what must be hundreds of lucky blogger's websites. 

Somehow I ended up becoming one of those lucky bloggers, and Alex's question today is:

"What are your favorite and least favorite animals to deal with?"

The funny thing about this question is the fact that if you asked 100 different zookeepers and animal professionals, you'd likely get 100 different answers. Part of the fun of becoming a zookeeper or animal trainer is getting to figure out which animals are your most and least favorite to work with, and your answers are often surprising. (For example, you may turn out to hate working with an animal you've long considered your "favorite.)

When I first started working as a zookeeper at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, I was itching to find out which animals were my favorites to work with. Because, you see, among zookeepers, there's this crazy unspoken hierarchy. You have your marine mammal people, and you have your primate people. You have your big cat people, your elephant people, your bear people, your canine people, your hoofstock people, your bird people, your reptile people... The list goes on and on. 

There are funny (and usually inaccurate!) stereotypes associated with each type of keeper. Certain types of keepers are considered extremely vain, certain types are considered rather bizarre, and certain types are considered adrenaline junkies. 

I had no idea which type of keeper I'd be, but I was certain I'd fall in love with some really cool type of animal, like a polar bear or a snow leopard. Imagine my surprise, then, when I quickly realized my favorite animal in the world was this guy:

Photo Courtesy of Me
That's right. I fell in love with a camel. A Bactrian camel, to be exact, a young bull named Knobby who changed my life in so many ways that I can't even begin to explain it.

Knobby was... dorky. And awkward. He often farted when he sat down, and he slipped a lot when he ran. His double humps wiggled when he jumped, he was terrified of wind, and his favorite pastime was smelling his own pee and then staring proudly at the sky like, "Yes. I did that."

When my husband and I left Alaska in 2010, I truly felt like I was leaving my child behind. And to this day, I still tear up when I think about the afternoon I finally had to say goodbye to him. I love that big klutz more than words can describe.

Knobby taught me lots of things, one of which was the fact that I'm not a huge fan of working with big, scary carnivores. Don't get me wrong, camels can be extremely dangerous--a little known fact--and I had to treat Knobby with an incredible amount of respect. He weighed close to 1,500 pounds when I left, and I always had to keep that in mind. I often had to cut training sessions short when I felt like he was getting a little too excited, because he could have crushed and trampled me in a second.

But the point is, Knobby didn't want to EAT me, and I was a big fan of that. I was also a big fan of the fact that Bactrian camels are domesticated, which means the thought of hanging around with a human all day isn't the strangest idea in the world to them.

Knobby also taught me that I like awkward animals. (Maybe I see a little bit of myself in them? ;)) This led me to enjoy working with many other awkward animals, and now my list of dream animals I'd LOVE to work with (but haven't) includes:

ANTEATERS
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
SLOTHS
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
KINKAJOUS
(Photo Courtesy of Animal Kingdom Pet Hospital)
HEDGEHOGS
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
What can I say? Perhaps I am a little dorky. (Ya think??) And I'm definitely a bit of a chicken, because on the other end of the spectrum, you couldn't pay me enough to work with any of the following animals: 

(Disclaimer: Many, many, many zookeepers would argue that these are the very best animals to work with. Those zookeepers just happen to be tougher than me.)
MANDRILS... Way too smart, and way too strong
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
GORILLAS... Ditto
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
CHIMPANZEES... Ditto
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
ALLIGATORS... Left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
SALTWATER CROCODILES... Even scarier left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
RETICULATED PYTHONS... Left-over dinosaurs with no legs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
KOMODO DRAGONS... Left-over dinosaurs with crazy mouths
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
So, there you have it! Lesson learned: Lisa LOVES dorky, approachable animals. ;)  Thanks so much for tuning in, and make sure to join me next Wednesday for an awesome, nature-related article. Have a wonderful week!

An Embarrassment of Riches

Yay!  Holy crap, I am now the proud recipient of THREE new blog awards!  Sophie Li just bestowed me with an adorable strawberry shortcake, recognizing my "Irresistibly Sweet Blog."  (What can I say?  It's obviously those cuties in my right margin...  They're the real crowd pleasers here, not me! :))

If you haven't visited Sophie Li's blog, The Wordsmith Apprentice, you really ought to.  Not only is Sophie the most adorable Army vet and ex-parachuter you've ever seen, but she's also in the process of finishing her first manuscript, raising two kids and generally being fantastic.


My second blog award is from Pam Asberry, and it's so chic and svelte that I don't know what to do with myself!  My brand new "Stylish Blogger Award" proves once and for all that hiking boots and dirty clothes CAN be trend-setting!

As a disclaimer, take a stop by Pam's blog, Sometimes It's Cloudy, Sometimes It's Clear, to see what REAL style looks like!  Not only is Pam a writer, piano teacher, jewelry designer and single parent, but she's also an incredibly classy lady, and I'm honored someone so chic chose to give me this badge.


Last but certainly not least, Alison Beightol just bestowed me with my third honor, the "Versatile Blogger Award."  Wow, I looove this award; we are all juggling multiple paths as aspiring writers, so it's amazing to be recognized for my little corner of the world.

Alison's blog, Adventures of the Cautionary Tale, is a wonderful place to visit.  Not only does she jazz it up with hilarious pictures, but she provides tons of fun content, and she never fails to make me laugh.  If you don't know Alison yet, you really, really, really need to swing by and say hello!


Thank you SO much, ladies!  You have truly made my day!

After doing some soul searching, I am ready to pay my gifts forward.  Here are a few rules before I announce the recipients of MY blog awards:

1. Thank and link the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about myself.

3. Pass the Sweet Blog Award to 15 blogging buddies. 
4. Pass the Stylish Blogger Award to five new-found blogging buddies.
5. Pass the Versatile Blogger Award to five fellow bloggers.
6. Contact the winners to congratulate them.


Without further ado, here are my winners (in no particular order).  Some of you I've known for awhile, and some of you I've just met, but I've been touched by your kindness, style and humor, and I'm so pleased to be able to show my appreciation for you with these awards.

IRRESISTIBLY SWEET BLOG AWARD
1. Anita Howard
2. Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC
3. Lydia K
4. EEV
5. brenda
6. Marewolf
7. Charlee
8. K. Syrah
9. Girl Parker
10. Dawn Brazil
11. Deirdra Eden-Coppel
13. K.C. Blake
14. Bethany C.
15. Jennifer Snyder

STYLISH BLOGGER AWARD
1. Rebecca Dupree
2. Moonlight Gleam
3. Talia Jager
4. Kimberly Spencer
5. Eliza Faith

VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD
1. Kalen O'Donnell
2. Katherine Jenkins
3. Coral
4. Beckah-Rah
5. Anna L. Walls

Now, on to my seven random facts.  Compiling these was great fun; I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

1. My original career goal was to be a garbage man. People think I’m kidding when I say this, but I absolutely wanted to be a garbage man when I was five or six years old. This was back in the days when garbage men actually stood on the back of the garbage trucks, and I used to stare longingly at those dudes, wishing there was some way I too could someday get paid to hang on the back of a moving vehicle. (The whole disclaimer that you actually had to stop and pick up trashcans every few feet obviously didn’t make a dent in my childhood brain.)

Photo Courtesy of California Cthulhu (Will Hart)
2. I am too tall to be Cinderella. While I attended college in Orlando, one of my dreams was to become a Disney princess at Walt Disney World. Utilizing the behind-the-scenes knowledge of some acquaintances who worked at the park, I actually managed to maneuver my way into a casting session. Upon my arrival, I was floored to learn how specific Disney’s princess requirements are. Princesses, apparently, should be between 5’4” and 5’7”, and their feet should be no larger than a size 9. (Sad news for my 5’8” and size 9.5 self!) Although I tried unsuccessfully to slouch and scrunch in my toes, I was quickly dismissed, and that was the end of my Disney princess dream. As a parting gift, however, I was cast as a dancer in Epcot’s Tapestry of Dreams parade, and I spent the next year and a half dancing, sweating, and smiling my gold-painted face off!

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

Summer 2003: That's me!!
3. I’m a crappy surfer, and I apparently don’t have the sense to stay out of shark-infested waters. I lack upper arm strength, but that didn’t stop me from really, really, really trying to pick up surfing during the six months I lived and worked as an apprentice chef in Australia. (I know, random, right? I’m almost as bad at cooking as I am at surfing.) The crowning jewel of this failed attempt at greatness took place off the coast of Adelaide when my friend Simon and I spent an afternoon surfing on a fantastic, hidden and remarkably empty stretch of beach just south of wine country. Upon our return to town, a few locals stopped us. Seeing our boards, they asked us where we’d been, and their jaws dropped when we told them the name of the beach and remarked how unusual we’d found it to be so empty on such a beautiful day. Yep, you guessed it. The beach was renowned great white territory, and none of the locals were stupid enough to step foot in the surf. (I still get the willies when I tell this story!)

Photo Courtesy of Terry Goss, Wikimedia Commons
4. I once lived in a tent for four and a half months. I spent the summer of 2004 living and working in Yosemite National Park, and my assigned employee housing was a 10’ x 10’ tent with canvas walls, a wooden floor and a pair of creaking, rusted army cots. (Did I mention I SHARED this 10’ x 10’ tent with a roommate??) Despite this rustic housing, I truly view those 4.5 months as an amazing turning point in my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. By living simply, I realized how much crap I actually didn’t need in my life. My summer in Yosemite also cemented my love of the outdoors, and I don’t think I would be where I am today if not for the lessons I learned while hiking, biking, stargazing and floating down the Merced River. (I will actually be returning to Yosemite next week to be a bridesmaid in my Yosemite roommate’s wedding. Mary Schwab, you are an angel, and I can’t wait to be part of your big day!!)

Photo Courtesy of Rainer Marks, Wikimedia Commons
5. The tattoo my left foot depicts the footprints of my six favorite animals at the Alaska Zoo. When my husband and I made the difficult decision to leave Alaska after nearly four fantastic years (see Thoughts on Leaving the Last Frontier), I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my job at the Alaska Zoo without taking along mementos of my six favorite animals. The result was this tattoo, which symbolizes (from bottom to top) Knobby the Bactrian camel, Elf the moose, Tracy the mountain goat, Mac the red fox, Max the raccoon and Peabody the great horned owl. (I have many more zoo loves, but these six animals in particular touched my life in so many ways that I’m ecstatic I get to carry them around with me every day.)

My bony feets!
6. I survived a horrific car crash last October, and nothing has been quite the same since. During my husband’s and my exodus from Alaska last October, we ran into a patch of black ice on a remote stretch of the Alaska Highway just south of the town of Fort Nelson in northern British Columbia. (See The Product of Post-Crash Insomnia) Our truck flipped six times and one of our two dogs was tossed out the back window, but we all miraculously survived. (My husband, our boy dog and I suffered only minor scrapes and bruises, and our girl dog suffered a hairline fracture on her pelvis, which healed after six weeks or so.) Although we walked away mostly unharmed, I couldn’t sleep for weeks, and I was haunted by the idea that the sum of our lives—our memories, our relationships, our goals and our dreams—could have been extinguished so easily in that split-second. The accident taught me many things, and the strongest of these is that we should ALWAYS tell people how we feel about them. If they are important to us, they should know that, because we might never get a second chance to express that. (On that note, thank you—ALL of you—for stopping by to visit me here. I know I’ve never met most of you in real-life, and I know I don’t know most of you very well yet, but our commonality and purpose as aspiring writers {most of us, anyway} is so powerful, and I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve found all of you to share in this journey with me.)

July 4, 2009: Milk Glacier, Girdwood, Alaska
7. A snake took a ride on my backpack this Tuesday. Now that I’ve gotten all “Debbie Downer” on you, I’ll end on a funny note. I’m currently working as the Director of Education at a nature center in Denver, and I had a huge field trip group out at the site this Tuesday. As I was wrapping up their field trip program, I set down my backpack to say goodbye to the teachers and pass out evaluations and whatnot. After leaving the backpack unattended for no more than five minutes, I picked it up, slung it over my shoulder and headed back to our educational shed to put my gear down. As I turned a corner, I caught a flash of movement at the corner of my eye, and THIS SNAKE fell off my backpack and hit the ground at my feet. WTF? WTF? WTF? WTF? I’m not really allowed to be afraid of snakes in my line of work, and I’ve worked with enough of them that I’ve kind of gotten over my girlish fear of them, but OH MY GOD. How are you supposed to NOT freak out when a 16-inch bull snake falls off your backpack and lands on the ground at your feet??? The best part, of course, was the fact that I had to grab a stick, pick this guy up, and run him to a safe place before the kids found him. Yikes!!!

Photo Courtesy of Antonio Muniz
That's all from me...  I can't wait to hear YOUR seven facts!! :)

The Alaska Zoo's Newest Baby!!


The Alaska Zoo just rescued a baby polar bear! Check out this article from the Associated Press, take a few moments to enjoy this wonderful video by zoo photographer John Gomes, and then read on to see what Executive Director Pat Lampi has to say about the zoo's newest orphan. (Here are a few more photos, also courtesy of John Gomes: Orphaned Polar Bear Cub.)  Apparently, this baby will be on "Good Morning America" tomorrow morning, so you can say you knew her before she was famous!

The Alaska Zoo is pleased to work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and to provide temporary care for this orphaned, female polar bear cub. The Alaska Zoo already has two adult polar bears and does not have additional permanent exhibit space at this time.

AK Zoo staff has cared for 45 orphaned or injured bear cubs over the past 25 years: eight polar bears, 32 brown bears and five black bears. This polar bear cub had spent at least two days without her mother’s care in the Arctic, with temperatures dipping well below 0 degrees F.

The cub’s wellbeing is, of course, everyone’s foremost concern. She needs time to regain her health and some of the weight she lost. The polar bear cub will not be on public display any time soon. Changes to this status would be determined by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, if they deem it appropriate. USF&WS will also be determining the permanent placement of the bear. AZA/Polar bear SSP officials have been contacted so that they may make their recommendations for permanent placement.

Thank you,

Patrick Lampi
Executive Director
Alaska Zoo


(P.S.- How jealous am I right now?? I helped raise many of the zoo's baby brown bears, but a POLAR BEAR shows up the second I leave the state! ;))

(P.P.S- John Gomes just shared another video with me! See it here first!!)