Saturday, November 20, 2004

Monroe, Louisiana—New Orleans, Louisiana—Shreveport, Louisiana—Day 294

Waking up early again this morning (before 6am), I had a few hours to kill before the zoo was even going to open at 10am. Luckily the hotel had “free internet” in each rooms, so I was able to get some work done on things while I waited for the zoo to open.

I decided that I would start doing some research on the zoos that I would be hitting up on my USA leg of the trip (I only have zoos left in the USA now). I opened up my notes with the lists of zoos that I need to go to and scrolled down the list.

Oh my god.

As my eyes scanned over the “Louisiana” section, I saw the worst thing I could have seen.

“Audubon Nature Institute. 6500 Magazine Street. New Orleans, Louisiana 70178.


Are you kidding? Are you telling me that there was a zoo in New Orleans that I MISSED? That I drove RIGHT PAST yesterday on my way to Monroe?

Yes. Its true.

How this happened is unexplainable. I could blame it on all sorts of things—jet lag for instance—but really I think it was just me subconsciously deciding, hey, I like a challenge. I will make things as difficult as possible for Sarah RIGHT before she wants to go home for Thanksgiving. Stress is my favorite thing.

Oh man. So what I would need to do is go to the zoo here in Monroe right when it opened at 10am, photograph the lone hippo there, then book it BACK to New Orleans and get there around three o’clock or so where I would photograph the hippo there, then book it BACK up to Shreveport where, tomorrow, I would drop off the rental car and get my flight to Tucson.

So I killed time on the internet while I anxiously waited for time to pass. By 9:30 I was ready to burst. I called the zoo in New Orleans to confirm the existence of hippos (the person I talked to claimed that they had three!) and I mentally prepared myself for my big day.

After getting my “free” continental breakfast and checking out, I headed to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo. I was there before it opened and was, of course, the first person in line. I was standing in line before they even opened the gates. Once they did, I bought my ticket ($4—a deal!) and asked the girl at the ticket booth what the hippos’ names were. She told me that there was just one, and that the hippos name was Penelope.

Great. I ran off (literally) to find Penelope, wherever she was. I didn’t have a map of the zoo but searched around for signs, luckily spotting the hippo sign close to the entrance. I ran past the birds (who called to me “hello!” as I ran past!) and passed a keeper and two teenage girls who looked like they were doing some sort of internship at the zoo.

I found Penelope, eating a huge thing of hay. I snapped a few pics then ran around to the side to get a better view of her.

That’s when the most amazing thing happened to me.

Just as I set down my bag and camera case and got ready wait for Penelope to stop eating (or for me to get a good shot of her), Penelope stopped eating and came RIGHT over to me.

She then proceeded to POSE for me, opening and closing her mouth (I’m assuming that she was expecting food from me) and it was a beautiful moment. As I clicked away, Penelope surveyed me, turned a bit, put her head down, lifted it up, opened her mouth—you know, all of the things that I would ask for from a hippo. Penelope just KNEW.

After about five minutes of modeling, Penelope grew tired of me and the lack of food I was providing her. She turned around and went back to her hay as I shook my head in amazement that THAT actually just happened.

I went to find Penelope’s indoor enclosure and found a ghastly indoor pool behind huge bars. The bars were so that you couldn’t even see the pool clearly at all. It was disgusting. I had no time to spare and dashed out of the zoo as quickly as I came—all this happened in under fifteen minutes—a record for sure.

I got in the rental car and sped off, thanking Penelope for providing me with such fantastic photos. The drive down to New Orleans was fine—rainy at times. In fact, it was pouring with such a strength at one point that I thought I would have to pull over at a rest stop and wait (thus narrowing my chances of getting to the zoo on time) but luckily the rain came and went.

I pulled into the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans with sore feet and a tired, well, everything. I got out and raced to the ticket booth where I got my ticket. It was three o’clock—I had an hour before the animals were “put away” and until five before the zoo officially closed.


I asked a stringy teenage boy directions to the hippos and he told me with great enthusiasm. I made it to the African Safari area as fast as I could (the zoo really wasn’t that small so this was easy) and found just one lone hippo in the enclosure—swimming around in circles over, over and over. I took pictures whenever the hippo came up to breathe (every few minutes or so) and after a while of this I decided to find out the deal about the hippo.

Secretly I was happy that there was just ONE hippo, not three!

So I wandered over to the elephants where the keepers had just finished up a talk to various visitors. I asked two teenage volunteers what the name of the hippo was—and it turned into a huge debate. Several other volunteers (all under the age of 17 practically) came over and there was a great discussion about the hippo’s name. Then they pulled in reinforcements—actual zoo keepers (who were all at least 35) and I got the enthusiastic reply from one of them, Jerry I think was his name. He was quite a character—seemed like the crocodile hunter type—and he proceeded to tell me all about Tony (the male hippo) and Tony’s history—how there used to be another hippo (Rosebud) but that Rosebud passed away after giving birth to a baby, then the baby passed away after refusing to be fed once the mother died. Tony, after surviving his loss, has managed to survive as one of the oldest hippos in captivity and, more miraculously, as the only original animal in the zoo.

While Jerry worked out just exactly how old Tony was (this took quite some time until he settled on the fact that Tony was born in 1952), I jotted down the notes about Tony. Apparently Tony swims in circles all day because he and Rosebud used to be separated on two sides of the enclosure. Now that the enclosure is opened up for both sides to be accessed at once, Tony continues to use just his one side. Poor guy.

I thanked them and headed back to Tony who was doing much of the same thing that he was before. I watched for a bit longer and then wandered over to the Louisiana Swamp exhibit to check out gift shop and the famed white alligator exhibit and then came back to Tony.

I stayed there until closing time—until of which Tony did not do another thing that warranted me taking photos of him. Especially since it was getting very dark with storm clouds rolling in, and because of the horrible mosquitoes that really should go away in November (at least I think so!) I was ready to get out of the zoo. I said goodbye to Tony and headed out of the zoo and hit the road back up to Shreveport.

Funny how the drive back up to Shreveport wasn’t all that bad. I don’t know—maybe I was delirious from the five hours of driving I had done this morning—I don’t know. Somehow I managed to drive all the way back avoiding the rain and not losing my mind either. Nothing was going to stop me from thanksgiving turkey and my mom’s chocolate pecan pie. My only stops were for gas and I pulled into a Renaissance Inn in Shreveport for the night. The hotel turned out to be a skeeeetchy place, complete with rickety beds, no towels, and bed bugs. Yuck. I was so exhausted from the day—and considering it was 11pm when I pulled in—that I cut my losses and turned out the light, hoping that morning would come quickly and feeling happy about going back to Tucson for a much needed break with the family.