Today my zoo duties consisted of tortoise monitoring, bird show, and animal nursery. I was grateful I didn't have to lead any tours because it was so damn HOT, I would surely have died. At least this way I was able to stay in the shade and not exert myself too much.
Tortoise duty is more fun than it sounds. People are so impressed with the size and age of these animals, even though they hardly move, but they want to climb on the rocks and try to touch them, so we docents are often asked to stand guard and throw out a few tortoise facts if you can (even though I'm realizing that many of the visitors don't speak much English, which I guess shouldn't surprise me -- actually, the kids always do, but often their parents just smile at me with a vaguely clueless look in their eyes. Such is L.A.).
While I was chilling with the tortoises, I befriended a tiny little praying mantis who suddenly appeared on my wrist (he was brown, but the green ones are more striking, so here you go). He was so tiny that I couldn't even get my camera to focus on him. He crawled around my arms and shirt, and when I held him up to my face, he would always turn around and cock his tiny head at me. What was he thinking? How was he perceiving this interaction? Did he even understand that I was a fellow living creature, or did he think I was just another plant to climb on? Did he care either way?
Mr. Mantis stayed with me for about 30 minutes as I walked around the zoo. (Did you know they can be referred to as either "praying" because of their pious posture, or "preying" because of their eating habits?) At one point, another little stripey bug made an appearance, and we wondered if there was going to be a miniature nature documentary right there on my shoulder. The mantis was totally watching the other bug, like a true predator. And by we, I mean me and Tom, my frequent security escort. It's a dangerous place, that zoo, so it's always a good idea to have a flirty guy with a bicycle and a med kit nearby.
I was planning to deposit my mantis in a nice leafy area before I went home, but I selfishly chose to keep him with me as long as possible because I so enjoyed his company. But alas, somewhere near the petting zoo I suddenly realized he was gone! I don't know if they can fly, but they can certainly jump, so I'm hoping that he chose to jump off to some appealing foliage, although I think it's more likely that he jumped off into the hay and probably ended up getting stepped on or eaten by a goat. Poor little mantis!
My final shift was in the nursery, where there were some tiny tortoises (like golf-ball size), elegant young gerenuk, mellow little duikers, and the cutest baby pig you ever did see. Actually, he's a babirusa, a kind of wild boar from Asia. Homer was the runt of his litter, so they've moved him over to the nursery until he's big enough to hold his own. He's only a couple months old, and is by far the smallest critter in the nursery pen, but apparently he has a Napoleon complex, and they had to put him in his own enclosure because he was bullying the other young animals! He is SO cute. He was running all around, investigating every leaf, his little tail wagging constantly. The keeper came out and nursed him with a bottle, and then scratched his back, which he LOVED. He then jumped into his water dish (to cool off I guess), ran around some more, and then suddenly got super tired and dropped in his tracks for a nap, as young animals will do. I refuse to believe he's going to grow up to look like this.