Friday was such a beautiful day here that on the spur of the moment we decided to visit our zoo. Temperature was in the mid-70s, sky a brilliant blue, soft breezes, little puffy white clouds - - - - and a weather forecast for 5 inches of rain and freezing temperatures for the weekend and the week ahead. Excuse enough to take the afternoon off and engage in some recreational cat-watching before the local apocalypse.
Now I don't want to start a discussion of zoos here. I know there are a lot of people who believe that it is wrong to cage wild animals and put them on display for gawking humans. There are others who argue that zoos do important work by establishing breeding programs and preserving endangered species. If I have to come down on one side or the other, I'll have to point to the Memphis Zoo as a prime example of the good zoos do. It has, in fact, been named the best zoo in America because of its natural habitats, its breeding program, and the innovative ways in which people become the caged ones while the animals run free.
It shouldn't surprise anyone who visits this site regularly to find out that we headed straight for Cat Country. We hesitated for a few minutes in front of the window into the river fishery where two red panda cubs were playing chase and tag. It didn't take much of a sighting for me to fall in love with Justin and Lucille. ( Or maybe I just liked the names.) Then we were off to view the black panther, the cheetahs, the Bengal tigers (including a white one!), and our newest Lion couple, who were behaving typically: The female posed daintily in front of the viewing window, while the male was sprawled on his back in the sun, sleeping the afternoon away.
But the highlight of our day was our visit with the snow leopard. Here, too, the male was asleep while the young female dealt with the visitors. Caching a moment when there were no other humans around to make fun of me, I called out to her, and much to my surprise she came right over to the vertical wire barrier in front of me. She stood on her hind legs, raised her front paws over her head, and pawed at the wire, both paws moving in unison. (Do you remember the YouTube video going around that showed two cats playing pat-a-cake? It was the same motion.) Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me, but this is the real Memphis snow leopard in the picture.
Then came the highlight of our day. Dropping back to all fours, she put on a tail-chasing display. Now, if you know snow leopards, you also know that they have preternaturally long tails with a tuft at the end, so it didn't take long for her to catch it. She was very proud of herself and looked to us for applause. Then she tried to walk away. Uh-oh!
You can see the problem. With her tail in her mouth, her back feet didn't move in the same direction as her front ones. All she could do was walk in a tight little circle, frustrated that she was not getting anywhere, but too proud to let go of the tail. Evidently, judging by pictures available on the internet, this is a common behavior of the snow leopard.
It was a delightful moment, but one that made me think of the lessons to be learned. How many times do we all set ourselves a goal without thinking about the consequences of our actions? And once we achieve a goal, does it stymie us, so that we find ourselves unable to move forward to something new?