maryland zoo

Volunteer open house

I arrived at Zoo at 11:14am (according to the time stamp on my ticket anyway), and quite surprised that even though the temp hasn’t been above 30 degrees all week I found that the vast majority of the snow and ice from Tuesday’s storm was gone – particularly since it was still messy getting around on Saturday afternoon.

There were only two gates open, the agents inside are talking to one another until the male points me out to his the female companion who turns to me as if I was interfering with their conversation. She sells me a ticket anyway and gives me a map to all the animals that are off display due to the frigid weather (which was pretty much all of them except the polar bears, Chimp Forrest, prairie dog village and the indoor portion of the giraffe exhibit) and gets back to the discussion I so rudely interrupted.

After wandering around the plaza area and watching the squirrels run around the prairie dog pen (the only part of the plaza to still have snow), I eventually go back to ask the only staff member in the immediate area how I was supposed to get to the Mansion House.

“What do YOU need at the Mansion House?” she asked me.

I explain the Volunteer Open House they were hosting this morning, even though she should have already known about it. She looks at me skeptically, smirks and makes a snorting noise before saying:

Stay there,” though she sounded more like she was trying to humor rather than help me. “I’ll call someone to escort you up there.”

I had no idea where “there” was, but I walked out towards the lion statue guarding the prairie dog exhibit. A few minutes later, a man on a golf cart came flying by me and around the path before another man in a green polo shirt arrived from the same direction (on foot).

He wasn’t openly rude like the admissions agent, but he clearly had better things to do with his time than escort some imbecilic visitor to the admin building. It turns out I was supposed to use the gate across from the mansion to get in (even though their website said to use the main gate as all attendees were expected to pay for zoo admission).

I signed-in at Mansion House at 11:31am, and was promptly given a “FAQ,” a brochure and a small yellow form. The yellow card was for checking which area you’d want to work in, but you had to submit it back at the sign-in area before you could talk to the people at the respective tables. The woman at the table sent me around the corner to the orientation speech.

“Most of you are not fit to be zoo volunteers,” their Education\Outreach director said at the beginning of her speech. “For a variety of reasons: sometimes yours, sometimes ours, but at the end of the season, most of you won’t be working here anymore” (according to their website, volunteer terms are for “4 months,” but in her presentation it is “the full season” – March-Nov)

After an approximately 20 minute PowerPoint presentation, we were free to discuss things with the five or six tables crammed on the south side of the porch (the north side wasn’t being used for this event, but a few people were sitting at a table set up there to fill out their yellow forms).

I tried to talk to a few people, but then I remembered: I hate trying to talk to people in settings like this. Not only was there a line at all but one of the tables (AZA Docent and Guide guy got no love from prospective volunteers).

I wanted to ask something about the admin volunteers, but they didn’t have their own table so I tried asking at the sign-in. They, however, seemed more interested in taking my yellow form than whatever question I was going to ask.

Finally, after some hesitation, I turned in the yellow card with my name and job choice and asked a staff member how I was supposed to leave the event. She looks at me blankly (did they expect us to stay forever?), and then grabs the first volunteer she sees and “assigns” him to take me back to the entrance.

My escort this time is far chattier and even went as far as asking my name (something no-one outside of Starbucks, Caribou Coffee and the “will call” booth at Everyman has done in over 3 years). I half expected him to ask my phone number as well, but he didn’t.

Mondawmin Mall doesn’t have a proper “food court” so much as a haphazard collection of quick service restaurants shoved into the area between Foot Locker, Rite Aid and the rear entrance to the mall.

As I’m on my way out of the  mall, an older black man (who was dressed better than I was and with slightly neater hair) puts his hand up in front of me and says “hey, gimme a dollar.”


“Oh come on, I just need a dollar,” I try to walk around him, but he blocks me.  “I’m homeless,” blocking me again. “I need to eat and I KNOW you have a dollar on you. You cannot tell me you ‘don’t have’ a DOLLAR to give a homeless man,” he blocks me again, making sure to look me directly in the eyes “it’s just a DOLLAR – that’s ALL I want so I can get something to eat!”

“NO,” I said firmly as he was really starting to piss me off. That’s when he finally backed off and let me pass.

Why am I the only one who HAS to give money to homeless people to get anywhere? It’s like every time I leave my apartment I have to pay a homeless person a toll or something or else s/he’ll never allow me to get where I’m going.

I don’t see them stopping other people on the street and forcing them to justify exactly how much money they have and why they aren’t giving it away to anyone who asks for it – just me, and I have no idea why.

I needed a break from all this not-saving-everyone-in-the-world thing so I stopped into the Dunkin Donuts across from the Metro station. I ordered a medium coffee and two donuts – which came out to $3.99…I had two $1s, a wrinkled $20 plus 27-cents.

See? I really didn’t have a dollar to spare – in fact I was one short. Meanwhile, as I’m waiting for my coffee, who do you think enters the store? “Do you have .50-cents?” “No.” “Do you have 50-cents?” “Sorry.” “Do you have 50-cents?” “No.” “Do you have 50-cents?” “Not today, sorry.”

He gives me an evil look, but doesn’t ask me anything. More importantly, not only did he request a lower amount from them (what do I look wealthier or something?), but he didn’t insist they justify refusing him either.

Finally, the old woman with the inscrutable accent calls out something that could be my coffee…and as I get up to get it, she hands it to another customer. I sit back down and make some notes of my day and finally her American colleague calls out my order.

I finish my donuts rather quickly, but the coffee was too hot for me to drink there so I took it into the station with me (oddly, no-one stopped me)… and it was lukewarm by the time I reached the platform level. I closed the tab on the lid and waited for the train in relative silence.

Another “wild” day had ended – and it was only 1:30pm…

Categories: adventures, Baltimore, maryland zoo, metro subway | Leave a comment

Editorial: Md Zoo’s new pengiun exhibition

Zoo begins construction on new $10.5m penguin exhibit. I admit the idea of a South African fishing village in the middle of Druid Hill Park sounds cool (no mention of whether it will have SA themed shops\restaurants), but the location of this attraction – dead center of the zoo across from the “Village Green” – of it seems a bit off.

This is particularly true since it involves not only moving the tram stop but relocating the entrances to both “African Journeys” and “Polar Bear Watch,” not to mention the affect this brand new themed village will have on their existing “village” (sort of like walking from the highly detailed “Harambe” onto a whitewashed version of “Discovery Island” at Animal Kingdom).

I agree that more penguin research and repatriation is essential to the survival of the species and their overall happiness and comfort within the zoo environment, but $10.5 million for a new exhibit strikes me as a tad excessive (do they really need “periodic” waterfalls, water spouts and a potemkin “fishing village”?).

I’m not saying they shouldn’t put something in that green space next to “African Journeys” just something smaller and more complimentary to the zoo’s existing scale (for instance, the current artic fox cage is literally the size of a dog crate, just sayin’), but to me it seems like their current plan would be a better fit for the upper portion of Buffalo Yard Road (the rarely used walkway they have temporarily rerouted the tram onto due to construction) near the entrance to “Maryland Wilderness” and across the service road from “Polar Bear Watch.”

In fact, it gives visitors a reason to take said pathway past the zoo’s original enclosures (archaeology, history and zoology all in one tiny fenced-off area) rather than cramming onto the overcrowded trams like they do now. I know from my trip to Williamsburg that kids are interested in archaeology, even if their parents weren’t always prepared to explain the details to their inquisitive wards.

Of course, it’s too late to question planning decisions already in construction, yet too early to review something that nobody has seen yet. On the plus side, it leaves room for more useless commentary as new details come to light…

Categories: attractions, Baltimore, editorials, maryland zoo, news, ramblings | Leave a comment

Earth Day 2013: Part 1

I didn’t leave the apartment until just after 10am, but worse than that I hadn’t counted on the single tracking on Metro Subway which meant that the trains were coming at 20-30 minute intervals meaning any semblance of schedule I thought I had was now completely shot.

I arrived at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore at 11:20am having officially missing enrichments for the lions\hornbills (10:30am) and polar bears\otters (11am). Fortunately, I had a good half hour after leaving the tram (which every parent in line insisted on calling a “train”) to get lunch (which was actually edible this time) before the next animal enrichment.

There was no line in their food court area so I arrived at the warthog exhibit nearly 10 minutes before their enrichment\keeper chat was slated to begin. Every parent who whizzed past the small enclosure helpfully asked their kids: “where is Pumbaa? Oh, I see him, over there! He’s behind that bush!”

The invariable spousal follow-up which got wittier and wittier each time I heard it was “Yeah, but where’s Timon?” Ha! Get it? Timon and Pumbaa from the The Lion King, see isn’t that just the funniest joke ever? For the record, the zoo does not have a meerkat exhibit.

Today’s enrichment was a brown paper bag filled with various fruits. Not the most creative enrichment in the world, but I guess it’s better than just throwing it away. BTW, the bag lasted all of ten seconds and our keeper kept the chat going by throwing some additional fruit into the enclosure while she was talking.

That was fun, but what is the next enrichment? Leopards at 1:30pm – that means I have an hour and 27 minutes to kill. I walked through the giraffe house, took some photos of the bloom around rock island, bought a basket of nachos, and rode the real zoo train (which according to a guest behind me who told her daughter that the train is operated by the “conductor” rather than the engineer like most trains). I still had twenty minutes left over, which was too long to sit idly on a bench…but nowhere near enough time to wander through “The Maryland Wilderness.”

I meander over to the leopard cage, stopping to watch the animals around the “African Watering Hole” where a boy about 5-6yrs old insisted that those hippos lying near the side wall of the enclosure. His mom tried to correct him that they were in fact rhinos, but he was adamant those were hippos until one of them raised their head and he shouted “Whoa, look they’ve got HORNS! Those are RHINOS!”

I was going to walk through the aviary… but why ruin a good sweatshirt (that already smelled like giraffe shit)?

I stood around the leopard pen for a bit, the male (“Hobbes”) was asleep on the grass near the north fence, and his mate was along the fence closest to us. One guest repeatedly asked his three year old son if he could see the “cheetahs” (which were in another enclosure), while a 3 year old boy on the other side of me shouted “JAG-WAR” (jaguars are native to Central\South America, hence not found on an “African Expedition”)?

Hobbes however popped his head up when the keeper jumped over the outer fence and followed her back to the enclosure entrance, the female (whose name I can’t recall) remained asleep until she heard the enclosure door open. The keeper put the cats into holding pens and gave a brief spiel about their names and histories, and then put the two paper bags in front of the large tree and in the logs where visitors could see them before going back to retrieve the cats.

Hobbes took all of 30 seconds to find, devour and destroy the paper bag at the front of the exhibit. His female companion took a nonchalant stroll around the perimeter of the enclosure before finally ripping into the bag at the foot of the tree, but that too was gone in a matter of seconds.

I looked at my map. The next show was at 2:30pm in the Chimpanzee Forest. That left me with one question – do I stay the extra 57 minutes to see what the monkeys do with their paper bags…or do I make my way towards the exit?

Categories: adventures, attractions, Baltimore, maryland zoo, metro subway | Leave a comment

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