Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Day 37 -- One more zoo before the conference

I woke up early this morning. Really early. Don't know why. But for several days I've been debating with myself (read: dithering) about cancelling my motel reservations in Wichita and switching to a slightly more expensive place. So in the wee hours I did some more research and decided to cancel the room at Motel 6 and reserve a room at a place in the same area that offers breakfast, internet access, and a microwave and fridge in the room. I've been getting kind of spoiled and besides, those amenities should help me defray some costs of meals. (Well, not the internet access.)

Got to the Oklahoma City Zoo around 9:30. It's really big, and the ape area is far from the entrance. It's kind of neat roaming such a big zoo on a weekday when there are few visitors.

I headed to the Great EscAPE area hoping I might run into one of the keepers who could point out Chloe, the young female who had recently been transferred from Dallas. She is purportedly the grand daughter of our Coco and Charlie. When I finally reached the chimp exhibit, I could spot only one male, so I made use of the phone number the Little Rock keepers had given me. (Turns out the young male was the one from Little Rock I was supposed to say 'hi' to.)

Keeper Jennifer came to the phone and graciously agreed to show me around. She identified Chloe for me and I managed to get a few good pictures. At a distance, but better than the ones I took 7 years ago in Dallas through steel mesh. With Chloe and the young male from Little Rock, there are now 6 chimps. They will be getting 3 more from Jacksonville and plan to integrate them into a single group with 4 males and 5 females. Chloe has been recommended for breeding.

Of the ape facilities I've seen at the zoos I've visited so far on this trip, I think Oklahoma City's is the best all around -- for the apes and for the visitors. Their outdoor island is spacious and gives them lots of places to get away from each other or the public, but the viewing areas allow for close looks. Jennifer told me that they rotate the chimps and gorillas (and the orangutan?) in the different yards, which gives them the opportunity to explore new places.

I spent another 90 minutes exploring much of the rest of the zoo. Saw some animals I'd never seen before -- bush dogs from South America, black-footed cat (small as a kitten) -- and some that we will soon have at Oregon Zoo -- caracals, wild dogs, cheetahs. I followed the sign to the okapi to see whether I might be able to get a decent picture. I've seen a few okapi in zoos, but they are always in dark woody habitats. As I turned a corner I spotted three okapi -- more than I've ever seen together before -- and two were posing nicely for photos. I snapped away.

After an ice cream to ease my hunger pangs, I set off for Wichita. It took a bit longer than I expected. Several slow downs for road work, and I was getting tired and needed to pull off at rest stops to refresh.

I didn't see the signs that said "you are now entering Kansas," but I knew I had arrived when the rough pavement suddenly became smooth. I-35 soon became the Kansas Turnpike. It didn't look any different, and the speed limit was still 70MPH, but there were toll booths and fewer off ramps. I made the obligatory stop at the welcome center and got some useful tips for getting around Wichita and parts west (where I will eventually be heading).

Found my motel with no trouble and went out to stock up for a few in-room meals and snacks. Tonight I will set my alarm clock for the first time in over five weeks. Conference registration begins at 8AM.

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