Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Unofficial Hierarchy of Animals

Okay can we all just admit that dolphins are NOT the be-all, end-all of the zoo field?  Or the animal kingdom, for that matter?  Don’t get me wrong, dolphins are one of my favorite animals.  I think they’re amazing, but I think we all get a little carried away with how great dolphins are when compared to other animals.  

I LOVE dolphins, but there are a lot of other super awesome animals out there, too!


I have two thoughts about this topic.

1. There is an unofficial hierarchy of alleged-awesomeness when it comes to working with animals in terms of species or families. 

Take that sticker off, Western lowland gorilla!


Tier One animals invoke a swooning and/or deeply jealous reaction from anyone to whom you’ve shared your profession.  Animals like dolphins (including killer whales, they are like Tier One Platinum), elephants, tigers, lions, cheetahs, gorillas, chimpanzees, and maybe maybe maybe wolves.  That’s pretty much it.  

*facepalm*


Tier Two animals invoke an interested but definitely tempered reaction. Most people dig them (they may still represent someone’s favorite critter) but generally you don’t really get the WOW factor.  Species include penguins, baboons, orangutans, all tiny species of monkey, otters, the less-popular big cats like mountain lions, bears, American alligators, Nile crocodiles, sea turtles, sharks, pandas, pinnipeds, kangaroos, koalas, giraffes, rhinos, ostriches, most species of parrots, etc.

I disagree!


Tier Three animals tend to elicit neutral responses or more of a “hmm, that’s nice” or “yeah, those are cute, now let’s talk about how cool dolphins are,”  I am hesitant to type this, but I want to keep it real in this blog so I’m gonna just say that even us zookeepers collectively get a little snobby when it comes to acknowledging people who dedicate their heart and soul to animals like raccoons, goats, all other species of fish and crocodilians not yet mentioned, basically all reptiles not already listed, all unmentioned hoofstock, unmentioned marsupials, rodents, farm animals, all unmentioned birds, all unmentioned simians, lemurs, etc.  

"Now where are those whales?"


Tier Four animals are the animals that may or may not have brains but people can appreciate for 10 seconds.  I’m talking about corals, jellyfish, butterflies anything that lives in a shell, frogs, salamanders, toads, crustaceans, etc.  

Poor, poor little sad, neglected frog.  I love you!!!


Tier Five animals tend to elicit a question from people somewhere along the lines of, “How do I kill this?”  Any insects that are not butterflies, arachnids, worms, etc.

It happens.


There are definitely people who have their most favorite animal in each tier, so this is more of a generalized list.  Okay, onto the second thought.

2.  While there is nothing wrong with having favorite species of animals, it’s time we obliterate this concept that some animals are better than others to care about or for. 

There, there, Toby.


  In fact, there are so many species of animals who are celebrated by the zookeepers who care for them that it makes me want to work with all of them.  The other day, I saw three posts about beloved opossums on Zookreepers.  This included two birthdays, special treats for the birthday-marsupials included.  And the comments on these posts were awesome, including other animal care professionals sharing their own stories about the opossum loves of their lives.

What is it that makes Tier One animals so popular?  It seems like their status is a foregone conclusion, and that we’ve all just stopped paying attention to the facts.  There are so many animal memes and videos floating around the internet that are NOT of tier one animals, yet we still go effing nuts for a baby orca.

I mean, I go effing nuts.  I admit it.


Case in point, let’s just talk about otters.  Lots of people like otters, but not the same way they like dolphins or tigers.  The prestige of working with an elephant surpasses that of an otter, let’s just be real here.  You could argue, “Oh, to be an orca/elephant caregiver, you have to be in tip-top shape, an expert in animal behavioral management, and be extra, extra careful with safety protocols.”  Yes, all true.  But this also goes for otters.  I mean, anyone who’s worked with them and/or has seen their less-than-sunny side knows that you basically need intermediate ninja skills to keep up with their antics.

They are also insanely popular.  I have seen more memes about otters than any dolphin.  In fact, I rarely see dolphin memes.  Or elephant ones.  Or tigers.  In fact, all the Tier One animals are suspiciously absent when it comes to starring in comedic internet imagery.  Is this because they are just too good for such things?  Or because they may actually NOT be the best species for that job?

YES PLEASE


I’m just gonna say it: otters are way cuter and more mysterious than any dolphin I’ve ever known.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love anyone more than the other, but I’m just telling you that when this little otter Pippin sits in my lap and makes turkey-gobbling sounds and then holds my hand….my heart melts.  Ain’t no dolphin who can hold my hand.

This same concept goes for many, many other species of animals.  Thomson’s gazelles are one of my favorites, because a good friend of mine told me these awesome stories about some of the ones she worked with for a few years.  She shared with me their amazing personalities and that made me go, “Wow, you know, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t really get that excited about them.”  

So fancy!


I also know that a lot of us, when we’re trying to get in the zoo/aquarium field, we tend to have a group of species with whom we really want to work.  When we don’t get that job, but wind up with one caring for animals we don’t know that much about, we can feel disappointed.  But why do we feel like that?  There is nothing wrong with aspiring to work with your favorite species of cockroach, but I’d be willing to bet that if you worked at the job you landed with tamarins, it would be super rewarding if you went into it with an open mind, eager to get to know WHO it is you’re caring for.  You can still aspire to the animals you originally sought, but it hurts no one to throw yourself completely into the animals you’re with.  In fact, it only helps…well, everyone.  You, the animals, your team, and the guests who see how much you love and care for them.


So let’s toss out this idea of some animals are better to work with than others; it’s a matter of perspective.  We can move forward and think, “Wow, that person got a job working with budgies.  How awesome is that!” or “I didn’t land a dolphin training job, but now I get to work with deer!  I wonder what I can learn about them.” 

What animals have you found yourself placing into tiers?  

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Moving and Migrating, The Key To Happiness?

I’ve had a lot of time to think about things the past couple of days.  That’s what happens when you’re in a car for a really long period of time with a sleeping baby in the back seat.   I thought about Atlanta traffic, which I was able to experience in all its Friday night glory, and concluded that it is undoubtedly a scourge sent to us from some ancient supernatural force that suffers all mortals without discrimination. 

I should've just rapped about it.


I also had some time to think about moving and what that does to a person.  I mean, it’s stressful right? It complete upends the most basic sense of security; your physical home and social network.  It really messes with your mind. Like I only ate one donut from my favorite donut place, because I was so high-strung.  But then I realized that's just how I react to this major life event*.  Some people live for that kind of change.  What is it about moving that makes so many of us stressed out, and others feel recharged and excited?

I’m no anthropologist, nor am I a philosopher.  But it makes me think about some of the things we as animal lovers talk about when we talk about animals.  One of the main arguments made against having animals in zoos or aquariums has to do with the amount of space they have in human care versus what they would theoretically have in the wild.  In my experience, the question usually revolves around bottlenose dolphins and if they have to swim hundreds of miles a day to thrive.

(Let me also just say that there absolutely ARE animal species whose life depends on the ability to move large distances.  This is just about bottlenose dolphins. )

Like anything, there are no solid answers to general questions.  As a field, we collectively strive to provide the best care for our animal family members, which means signing up for a constant evolution and admitting that there will always be necessary change we have to answer to in practice, not just in theory.  But when we start to debate the need for animals in general to move around, both sides of the argument tend to work in sweeping statements (always coming from a place of compassion, of course).

I may not be a philosopher, but I appreciate a deep thought when I see one.


So often, I’ve heard myself answering a tough question about “is this enough space for a dolphin to swim in?” with some comparison to myself. I mean this as a show of sincere sign of connection to the animals as individuals and to their well-being.  That might be a flaw of mine; I tend to assume that the person asking me the question already thinks I’m a jerk for being a marine mammal trainer.  I know that’s an unfair assumption to make, because there are people who just ask because they are curious. But I’m sensitive to those kinds of questions…not because they aren’t valid ones to ask, but because I never know if we’re talking about the topic at hand, or if it’s going to turn into some mudslinging session.

Right, so when I’m asked about if dolphins have enough space considering the vastness of their natural habitat, I usually talk about how coastal bottlenose dolphins tend to stay wherever the food is; they only travel large distances if they have to.  Otherwise, they seem to prefer to stay within a home range.  And then I compare that to myself, saying if there’s deep dish pizza in my neighborhood, you can pretty much bet I’ll stay in one spot.

Homing beacon activated


I’ve heard other answers, like it doesn’t really “matter” how much space the animals have, as long as they are well taken care of.   I’ve heard things like, “there is no research to support that they need a certain amount of space”. 

Those are answers in response to questions or statements like, “dolphins normally travel hundreds or thousands of miles a day, and now they swim in endless tiny loops” and “how can they be happy in this small tank?”

Well this is just a huge mess


Some of you might be nodding your heads in agreement, while others of you are bristling.  This is one of those classic Us Against Them scenarios.  But does it have to be that way?

I was thinking on the first long leg of my moving journey about what it means to be an animal who tends to seek out a territory and set down roots.  We get jobs, we rent or buy a house, we start families (including our non-human babies!), and get involved with our community to varying degrees.  We travel to select places, usually to meet some core need.  For me, that was: work and burritos (I had the deep dish pizza delivered).  And sometimes, we travel for pleasure, only to come right back to our cozy 900 square foot homes.

Do people with giant estates, or the ability to travel a lot more, have better lives than those of us living in small places who basically stay within a 10 mile radius?  In general, no.  It’s just different.  

OVER DONE John Fogarty! For serious.


But that’s not really the whole story to how humans as a species live.  Yes, many of us can culturally relate to what I’ve just written.  That’s how we were raised (although some of us still choose to live a wanderlust life).  But there are many cultures of humans who do or did roam vast distances.  Nomadic and migratory peoples would take a lot of adjusting to live a life that most of us know as “normal”….just as it would be a massive shock to our lives to never have a rooted-down home. 

Despite humans being all one species, we have many different cultures.  And in terms of bottlenose dolphins, we share that in common.  There are currently two species of bottlenose dolphins, the common and the Indo-Pacific.  The common is further split into sub-species, but even within those sub-species we see very different cultural differences in populations.  Some stick to a home-range, some travel large distances, some dive to great depths for food while others specialize in hunting prey in inches of water.

Why you so complicated, sea mammal?


The point is, we can’t easily say that dolphins need to move, or that they don’t need to move.  We have to understand their natural history, not just as a species as a whole, but as a population.  As a culture.  And lastly (but not least importantly), as an individual.  It’s just as unfair to say that dolphins need hundreds of miles to swim in order to be happy as it is to say that they unequivocally don’t need it.  Would a dolphin who is born in human care live a better life in a larger, more naturalistic habitat?  I can’t even hazard a guess unless I know the animal well, but I think any animal care professional would emphatically vote YES for any habitat upgrades as long as it was the right fit for the animals in question.

Which brings me to the last point, which is that not all animals are eager to just move into a new place.  This is a point of contention when it comes to zoo professionals themselves, and not just with the animal rights extremists.  While we all would want the most naturalistic, gigantic habitat for our animal friends, we still have to consider what steps that requires in order to ensure the animals themselves benefit from it.  I know a few dolphins who would freak out if they were plopped into any habitat other than the ones they know; that's just who they are.   It's not as simple as just building a better habitat and BOOM everybody's happier.

Don't we all, Garth?


But that can't be an excuse for us in the field, either. Saying the dolphins need to travel hundreds of miles may be true for some, but not all. But just because the animals in our care may be doing well in their current habitats doesn’t mean we as zoological professionals should sit on our laurels.  It has to constantly be an assessment; what is really best for the animals?  Keeping that question as the pinnacle around which all our other decisions are made is what we are and should be about in our profession.  There are no simple answers, even though we feel like we need to answer a critical question with one.  The complicated nature of living alongside of animals pushes us to always change, to ask questions, to be critical of ourselves, and to acknowledge all facets of an animal's needs both as an individual and within a population.


Personally, I’m ready to root down and live in a small apartment and have a simple life.  That’s just me; that’s not me speaking for the entire human race.  And now, I take off my philosopher's hat so that I can combat the next leg of my journey, which will likely involve a lot of Red Bull and excitement about the next chapter!



_____________
*Even though this move is a) for an awesome opportunity and b) will undoubtedly put me into the loving arms of many donut bakeries

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Budding Writer

I don't know whether you're going to love or hate me after this blog post, but I'm taking a risk showing you guys this and I hope you'll be gentle.

I've always enjoyed the act of creation in multiple media, whether the written word, fine art, baking, or a massively imaginative world of terrific anxiety where everything goes terribly wrong and I wind up spending hours staring at WebMD or some related resource wondering if one of my pupils is larger than the other.

Thanks!


I love writing this blog.  I love writing, I love sharing, and I love that many of you love it.  I'm starting to get asked questions by people I don't know about my inspiration for each weekly topic, or "have I always been a writer", things like that.  It's very flattering and humbling to receive your encouraging words and questions.  If you've wondered from whence my inspiration springs, I'll show you in this very entry.

Lucky you, because I'm moving I have found all kinds of things stuffed around this place.  I'm doing that KonMari method of tidying up and it's changing my life.  It also put me into close contact with things I completely forgot I had, such as manuals to electrical equipment I've never owned and really blurry photos of landscapes with my 8th grade hand-writing on it with profoundly written captions such as "Liquid Grace" (hint: it's a picture of a waterfall.  Brilliant.).

But then I found a treasure trove of my earliest prose.  I read each piece, mesmerized by how little I've changed in both how I write, and how I choose the topic.  It was a very enlightening experience which has led me to a very important conclusion that I feel must be immediately published in this format so that you all know me a little better.  I've tried framing this conclusive thought into a declarative sentence, but it stubbornly remains only a question.  After toiling over it, re-phrasing it, and pondering its significance in my life and how it reaches my amazing audience via this blog, I've decided to share it with you in its unpolished - but finished- glory:

Was I, at any point in life, dropped on my head?

I'll let you be the judge now, as we take a trip back in time to the first work I'm sharing with all of you: My Official Autobiography.  (Note: all captions are sic and also I was like 7 when I wrote this, so...)

"MY LIFE by; Catherine Rust.  Chapter 1  The Hospital
In 1984 I was born.  I can't quite rember every thing.
I was very big.  My mom couldn't beilve how big I was."
We open with this compelling scene.  Not only are we moved by the actual occasion of my birth, but I very artistically mention using brilliant literary devices that my memory is so good, I remembered some (but not all) of my birth.  I clearly didn't want the reader to feel separated from me by jealousy of my tremendous, congenital intellectual capacity, so I went the humble route by suggesting that, by seven years old, I'd forgotten some of the events in my first hours.  

I'd also like to point out that I illustrated this volume. I think I really captured my mother's exhaustion in her eyes.

"I looked funny when the nurse held me.  She was nice.  She gave me a bath.
then gave me to my mom.
I'll name her Catherine! Her nick names will be Cat, Kitty, and Kitten.
No Cathy! I don't think she'll like that.' said my mom Sandra Ann VanGilder.
I had thick hair!"

This is a pretty self-explanatory page. You now know all of my nicknames.  You are aware of my masterful rhetoric as I weave compelling dialogue with blunt physical descriptions.  The only questions I have my for myself involve the illustration here, including if that nurse ever learned how to hold a newborn baby.  I do approve of the very chic claw-footed bathtub I'm sure was standard issue in hospitals at the time.

"Splash! Splash! Splash!
I was having so much fun!
Then the bad part, my shot!
The nurse got it ready.
'Ouch!' said my mom.
Points to note: see how, even though I was hours old, I could sit up on my own? A sign of a genius, if you ask me.

Also, CAN WE JUST TAKE A MOMENT TO SHUDDER IN HORROR AT THE SIZE OF THE SHOT.  What in my little brain inspired me to draw a 100cc syringe attached to like what, a 2 gauge needle?  I actually remember drawing this, because I had no clue where nurses got the stuff that goes IN the shot, so I came up with the best medical contraption I could.  Note its sleek and modern design.  It's apparently also powered by electricity, unless those curly cords are just for show.

There is also another shot waiting on the far left, or maybe that's a shish kebab for later.

"My dad came.  His name is David Anothony Rust.  He went to work to tell
people the good news.  He asked for a pair of shoes that said Kristine!
He showed them to my mom.  She said, 'Dave! This is Cathereine! Not Kristine!'
'Oh man!' said my dad and went back.
The plot thickens.  I merely graze over what was a major moment of marital tension; my dad spacing out on my name.  True story.  He ordered a pair of personalized shoes for me that said "Christine", brought them to the hospital only to realize the mistake.  After further inquiry, all parties involved could not argue with evidence presented by the company who made the shoes: an order form with "Christine" written in my dad's characteristic handwriting.

At this point in the story, our hero is now sitting up on the floor and my mom is in some kind of bed that defies the laws of physics.  It was a pretty fancy hospital. Check out the hot pink sheets!

"Chapter 2  The Car
'Time to go!' said my mom.  'We don't have a car seat.'
'I'll get one at Kohls.' said my dad.  And he did."
Ah, the first product placement.  I've avoided that on my blog, because I want this to remain something I do for free and for fun.  But in my younger years, I found it necessary to subtly place my favorite stores and brands in my work.  

I'd also like to retract my notion that my parents were unprepared for my birth.  They did in fact, bring a car seat to the hospital.  The start of this chapter insinuating otherwise was merely my artistic decision to alter the facts in order to make a more compelling story: Child genius defies odds in spite of parents not remembering her name and not having the appropriate safety gear for the car.  

To any team members at Kohls: feel free to use my window display design of car seats as depicted in the above image.

'Ah! Here is one!' said my dad.
And went to the hospital.
'Time to go home Catherine' said the nurse and we got in the car.
This is where my illustrations start to change.  This always happened when I wrote AND illustrated my own work: a gradual evolution from illustration to what I can only describe as abstract art.  Notice I've only drawn my mother here, with an empty car (in a different color than the car in the last photo, which I believe was meant to show my dad also got a paint job on his way back from Kohls), and an American flag.  This is true patriotic pride, a common theme in my earliest work.  Also, it was one of the only things I felt I could draw well.

" 'Here we are!' said My dad.
'Wow!' I thought.
'Here's the krib!' said my dad. 'I got it at Kohl's as well.'
It was a small apartment with only one bedroom."
Physics laws be damned, I was living in some kind of gravity-free apartment.  In this illustration, I wanted to show my grasp of Swedish design concepts; note the complimentary colors, bold pattern and the rocking base (very, very safe I assure you) in its free-floating form by the window.

" 'ZZZZZZ' said I.
So my mom put me to sleep."
My mother at this point has worn three different color dresses in the last three consecutive drawings.  This must've been very intentional, although I'm embarrassed to admit now that the deeper meaning of this imagery is lost to me.  I have managed to keep both the crib and window dressings consistent. 

"When I was one month old, My mom had dressed me
up so pretty.  Then my dad came home.  All of a sudden
you hear this wooosh! I got gone poo all over the place."
Not only have my drawings started to decline, but now the content is questionable.   This is (sadly) a true story.  I am, however, impressed at the action scene of poo flying out of my dress.

"When I was 8 months old My mom hired a
nanny named Robin.  She is very nice."
At this point, I'm definitely losing interest in my subject.  I should've stopped for the day, rested my tired mind, and come back with fresh creativity later.  But I didn't, and I'll have to live with that.  For now, we can appreciate the very fancy couch in the background (which we didn't actually have).  I'm unsure of what program is playing on the TV.

"We did things together.  We read books,
pluzzles, and other things.
At 6:00pm, Mom would come home."
Now I really don't give a %&#*.  This is either my mom coming home from work, having lost not just her face, but her hair, hands, and legs.  She did have an important job at a very large bank, so it's possible that this drawing is not actually a lack of interest, but a commentary on the woes of the modern day workplace.  We lose ourselves in our work.  We come home as an apparition in horrendous clothing, a shell of our former selves (the former self that wore three different dresses in the span of a few minutes).

"Chapter 3 Older
Years went by.  We moved into another house.
I was three years old."
What happened in those formative years I apparently didn't feel was worth recording.  I'd already gone into enough detail about Kohls purchases and shots.  Where this tale began with great intention, it slides quickly downward into this image: me, a 3 year old, on a fancy couch with no legs.  Look at how sad I am.  Is that because I'm disappointed in myself for not fully committing to this creative project?  Am I pondering the passage of time, and how quickly it elapses?  Or is it simply that my neck is at such an impossible angle that I've internally decapitated myself, and/or signed up for years of chiropractic treatment down the road?

The second to last page of my autobiography.
Wow.  Look at this hulking man.  There is no need to end the story of my life (to date at 7 years old) with a "the end".  Because there was (and hopefully is) so much life left to live.  I made the creative decision to draw this cave man, with large muscles.  Yes, I understand the scientific inaccuracy of a tyrannosaurus rex hovering over him (but please note the sad expression).  What I'm most concerned about is whatever it was I was trying to draw by the caveman's right (our left) leg.  Also, please enjoy a list of names randomly placed in between these two characters.

The last page of my autobiography.  The clock.  The words.  Profound.


That's all for now, folks.  I've got plenty more where that came from, so stay tuned.  Also, I'm sorry.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

This One Goes Out To The One(s) I Love!

This week's blog is special.  It's inspired by those who have filled my life the past three years, and I think they deserve an entry dedicated to them.  


Plus, they are dedicated to fitness.



As a few of you may know, I am changing jobs (staying in the field, though).  While I absolutely HATE moving (why haven't molecular transporters been invented/made for mainstream retail sales in places such as Target yet?), I HATE saying goodbye to animals of all species.  So why on earth would I leave, you ask?

Life is complicated.  By complicated I mean, I reproduced and my life went from "What PS4 games should I buy" to "What PS4 games should I buy and also save money for my kid's college?"*  My human and non-human kids are the center of my life (also, cheese).  But so is my career.  And I was able to find a fantastic opportunity for me and my family, AND it moves me closer to my parents, AND has an awesome team and program.


Well Spiderman, you've got more important things to do.


So all of that amounted to a very difficult decision to leave a place I've been so in love with for the last three years.  

I have grown so much as a trainer and leader, not just because of the experiences that happened while I was there, but because the team I was on has a bunch of incredible people at all levels.  To say I've learned a lot from them is an understatement.  I mean, I never worked with pinnipeds or penguins before I went there...they had to teach me everything.  I came in as an assistant supervisor, but was a complete newbie when it came to 75% of the animals they cared for there.  

I learned a lot of other lessons I thought I'd share with all of you.  I've shared with each staff member (animals included) the really serious, meaningful lessons I've learned from them one-on-one.  But I forgot to mention a couple, so here they are.

Dolphins


They've got another puzzle for you


1. You guys constantly tested my level of intelligence.  My ability to comprehend object permanence has been challenged on many occasions vis-a-vis toys stuffed under floating docks by not just by you Chopper, but allllll the others once they realized what you were doing.  This most recently includes you, little Kaya.  You, who on my last show, took a soccer ball and popped it under the dock I was sitting on, then came up and looked at me like, "Oh, what? The ball? What ball?"

You can tell all your dolphin friends that humans really ARE capable of abstract cognitive thought and while we can't use echolocation to see in the dark or through bodies, we invented donuts so we win.  


YOU WOULDN'T


2. Don't think I didn't notice that no matter where I am stood, you were all trying to get me soaked.  There is a statistically significant relationship between the amount of times I was physically present in the main dolphin show area to when you guys would breach/splash/jump and send insane amounts of water flying directly at me.   Wait, I feel a Dr. Suess stanza welling within me about this:  I could move over here, I could move over there, it just didn't matter, you just didn't care.


Delilah, CEO


3. Delilah, I fully admit on this public forum that you are unequivocally the Grand Empress of the entire facility.  

Seals


Adorbs

1. To the sweetest, most unassuming seal: you turn into a holy terror when you disapprove of the following situations: transporting.  You are absolutely terrified by people standing at the wrong angle to your head, and will galumph at warp speed to the nearest body of water and not eat for days.  But if you so much as sense a device that could possibly be used for moving you from one habitat to the other, you instantly become possessed by a demon force and show what harbor seal jaws can really do.  It reminds me of something....


Yes, yes that's it.


2.  Priscilla, you taught me it's really okay to just roll yourself into the water.


And that's okay



3.  You have all showed me that no mammal on the planet can drool more than a seal.  


Sea Lions


I may or may not be taking her with me....


1. How bad can a sea lion fart smell? I know now, thanks to you.  I can confidently state that your farts are difficult for science to categorize as simply "gas", because there is a tangible yet invisible element to its chemical makeup that not only creates odor, but a sort of thick mask that slathers your face and lines the inside of human nostrils.

2. On a related note, you've taught me how to get through a show while you are simultaneously doing a front flipper walk whilst farting and launching small amounts of poo in glorious parabolic arches like some kind of sulfur fountain.  

3. I've also learned that it is a privilege you bestow upon us naked apes to let us touch you when you're fuzzy, and for that I am eternally grateful.


African Penguins


He's so handsome :)


1. To the anonymous elderly lady penguin (whose identity I am protected for fear of her finding me in my new home and teaching me a lesson):  You've taught me to Never. Never. Never pick up a penguin and put your face right in their face.  


Cuz ow.


2. You all create more confusion among guests than any other species of animal in the park.  I never thought I'd hear so many frustrated or hopelessly confused people comment on how you all survive the Florida heat.  

3.  You're also possibly more popular than even the dolphins (I'd suggest keeping that fact a secret from them).

Otters


There there, human. 


1.  You've taught me that if I can dream it, I can do it!  You never let anything like size, safety, or even the laws of physics stop you from destroying things.  You can destroy cement.  You can stuff rocks into pipes that we thought could never fit in there.  You can shove our carefully-created diets right in our faces and eat your weight in insects at night, baffling us with your bizarre weight gain.  

2.  There is nothing more heartwarming than one of you curling up in my lap and snuggling while you make those little chirps.  I'll do just about anything if you reinforce me with the otter snuggles!

3.  Your poop is the physical manifestation of a sea lion fart.  


No, trust me Amy, it's true.



Staff


This was the best day!


1. You CAN successfully complete a day on a diet of donuts, cheese puff balls, pizza, and gummy things. 


Arrrrrrgh


2.  We look really good in Halloween costumes.

3.  I learned that spending eight hours in heavy rain is only fun when it's with all of you.


<3


It's been a phenomenal adventure and I will miss all of you so much.  You have all done such incredible things with amazingly positive attitudes and it's been an absolute privilege to be on your team.  I can't wait to see what each one of you does with your career, no matter where you stay or go.  

And to the animals, don't ever stop with the mind-messing stuff.  You keep us humble, and that's what humans need most.


Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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* This is a trick question.  There is no way to afford PS4 games, much less any living expenses such as toilet paper and water while saving for college.