I have long questioned the practice of feeding all captive animals upwards of two times per day, regardless of the animal's weight, build, or daily calorie expenditure. There is no reward for physical exercise; no punishment for laziness. And although portion sizes may be cut back for an animal that reaches the level of clinical obesity, an animal in a mid-range weight class is not asked to lose the extra five pounds that cuts down on its overall appeal. While most house pets can get away with these practices, I was quite relieved to see on a recent trip to the World Famous San Diego Zoo that the media's portrayal of beauty and fitness has spread to the animal kingdom. I can suspend judgment on an overweight house cat that I do not have to play with, but my grandma renews my yearly zoo membership so that I can revel in the glory of animal perfection.
My usual "best of" path through the zoo begins in Tiger River, makes a right at Hippo Beach to go up Cat Alley, and curves back through the birds of prey to drop me off at the Skyfari, which deposits me at the exit. Throw in a churro and a quick pass by the naked mole rats and I am ready to leave, invigorated by the perfectly-created natural habitat that I have just witnessed. I generally avoid such exhibits as the primate exhibit (new and a bit sterile for my taste), the reptile cave (I'm not an idiot), and the Polar Bear Plunge, as I do not need the sadness of watching a yellow arctic bear play with a flat volleyball. However, at the request of my guest, I graciously visited the polar bears on my last zoo excursion, only to find a polar bear laying on a rock eating Romaine lettuce hearts and a carrot! As a cursory Wikipedia search reveals that polar bears generally eat baby seals and human faces, I was ecstatic to see that the zoo staff has been cutting out the bear's red meat and upping the organic. Although I was a little concerned that he may choke on his Jamba Juice straw, it was quickly forgotten when I watched his excited facial expressions at his daily weigh in. My guess is that this weight loss excitement will soon spread to Hippo Beach, although the hippo's already healthy lifestyle (constant swimming and high fiber diet) makes me think that surgical procedures may be necessary. If my zoo dues can go towards hiring the best animal plastic surgeon in the San Diego area, then so be it.
I sincerely hope that the new weight standards will lead to increasingly competitive hiring. I was confused when it was brought to my attention that one of the swamp monkeys and one of the snow leopards are both missing a paw. A hippo with a few stubborn pounds is one thing, but it's another thing altogether for the zoo to consciously take in circus act hand-me-downs. Is this the World Famous Rehabilitation Center? The World Famous Second Chance at Self Esteem? As far as I can see, the zoo's only options are to hold tryouts for suitable monkey and leopard replacements, or to schedule the attachment of robotic paw prosthetics. Either option needs to occur before June 23, when Night Zoo hours begin, increasing the exposure, and therefore the embarrassment, at the primate exhibit and Cat Alley.