We recently stumbled on this video made by the Houston Zoo, wherein people recall their favorite memories of the place.
With the long Labor Day Weekend coming up, Hair Balls has a few memories of its own...
7. The elephants. Six Houston-born or -raised pachyderms of them have died of elephant herpes in recent years, including Mac, the beloved baby who passed on late last year.
6. A concerned citizen once called the snake house to inquire about the Texas coral snake. Specifically, the caller wanted to know why the serpent had not moved a millimeter in nine months. Curator John Donaho promptly gave up the game: the snake's inertia stemmed from the fact that it was an inanimate object, a rubber snake possibly purchased at the five-and-dime in Rice Village. "We have had live snakes in the exhibit, but they don't do well -- they tend to die,'' Donaho later explained to The New York Times. ''Rather than kill snakes, we put out a rubber one for people to be able to see what they look like.''
5. If there was ever an animal that moved even less than the rubber snake, it was the poor polar bear, which could be seen miserably roasting year-round in its outdoor enclosure. The poor beast was suffering defined: it almost made you wish you believed in reincarnation, so you could take consolation in the hope that this sweltering Arctic carnivore housed the transmigrated soul of Adolf Hitler.
4. Hippos, the lack thereof. What kind of world-class city has a zoo without hippos?
3. Kids once were allowed to ride Galapagos turtles there. We say this not to point out how wrong this was, but to wonder why it is still not allowed. We suspect some kind of liability issue was raised -- no helmets were provided as I recall, and those suckers could move upwards of two miles per hour.
2. They won't let kids ride the big turtles anymore, but they will let you have a tug-of-war with a freaking lion over scraps of meat...
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1. It was a crowded Memorial Day weekend in 1988, a bare few weeks after a zookeeper was killed by one of the zoo's Siberian tigers. One Robert Lavoie, a 27-year-old construction worker / Telephone Road resident, clambered past a broken gate on to the fake rocks above the tiger's enclosure, where he decided to taunt some of the other striped cats. The zoo had posted a security guard there, but he was at lunch when Lavoie went all Siegfried and Roy -- which in Lavoie's case, consisted of swapping growls with the agitated Bengals, beating his chest a la King Kong, and almost tumbling to what would have been a certain gory and painful death, all while 100 people gazed on in horror. A zookeeper by the name of Bill Monroe eventually tackled Lavoie. "La, la, la," chanted Lavoie as he was carted off to the zoo office. "I was on drugs." Lavoie later explained that his escapades were his way of showing kids, rather than telling them, to stay off drugs.
We have Lavoie's wild rumpus in part to thank for the zoo's ticket prices -- specifically, the fact that they have prices at all. From its opening in 1921 until shortly after Lavoie went Tarzan, the zoo had been free, and thus a magnet for bored derelicts from all over the city. Lavoie's escapade and less spectacular others like it persuaded Mayor Kathy Whitmire to institute what was originally a token fee.
Today, taking a family of four there will set you back $30 at the gate. So there, kids -- look what drugs will do.