The news of late has been rather depressing, and definitely not in line with the holiday spirit we would prefer to be filled with at this time of year. With multiple senseless tragedies in the national news, we are all touched by events that are difficult to understand. It is impossible for me to comprehend what the loved ones of the victims are experiencing, so I try to take comfort in the fact that such tragedies also bring out the best in the many good people in the world, as they respond and support those affected.
The zoo experienced a loss of its own this week, and while it pales in comparison to the scale and senselessness of national events, it is significant and saddening on a more personal level to those of us at the zoo. After many months of treating our mountain lion "Sherman" for medical issues, staff had to make the very difficult decision Tuesday to euthanize him when it became apparent that we had tried everything we could conceivably think of to treat him, without success. Often with animals, you aren't always sure what's at the root of the symptoms you are treating because they not only can't tell you what is wrong, they naturally try to hide symptoms. In the wild, this strategy helps them avoid attracting attention to themselves and becoming prey.
In Sherman's case, the post mortem examination revealed a missing or defective heart valve, lung congestion related to the heart issue, and problems with his gall bladder. Finally knowing what actually was wrong helps to make our difficult decision slightly easier to bear, but suffice it to say that it was a sad time for zoo staff this week.
Sherman came to us as a kitten after being confiscated from an illegal home situation. He was hand-raised by humans from an early age, and probably didn't have an opportunity to socialize with his mother. This made him unusual in that he appeared to interact (through fences of course) with visitors and staff more than a parent-raised animal. This endeared him to many visitors as they felt a more personal connection. He was a great ambassador for the fundraising campaign for Cat Canyon, and we all wish his health had allowed him to experience the new exhibit we worked so hard to make possible for our cats.
Like any loss we experience, whether it's a parent, family member, friend, or even a pet, we must each grieve in our own personal way, and take comfort in good memories, which we hope eventually will take the place of the sadness. It sometimes helps to look to the future, to take stock of what is good in our lives, and to appreciate the time we had with our lost loved ones.
Here at the zoo, we know that the animals in our collection will not be with us forever. As such we appreciate the time we do have with them, enjoying all of their personal little idiosyncrasies that endear them to us. Whether it's a lemur who loves her belly and underarms scratched, giraffes who eagerly await the next browse delivery, the goeldi's monkey baby stealing grapes from her dad, or the Sloth bears noisily slurping peanut butter from a spoon, each animal is special in its own way, and the keepers and other zoo staff are highly dedicated to providing them with the best possible care.
Our animal keepers are very in tune with the animals they care for, and know their likes and dislikes, favorite foods, toys, scents, sleeping spots, hiding places, and more. The bond created is strong, just as it is with a favorite pet in your home. When it is time for our animal friends to go, they leave indelible marks on our heart. We will miss Sherman, but know that during his time here at the zoo, he touched the hearts and minds of many people and helped them to appreciate wildlife and wild spaces that much more.
I hope that your holiday is filled with family, friends, plentiful food, and happy memories. Appreciate what you have, and be sure to tell those you care about how you feel. All of us at the zoo greatly appreciate the wonderful community that we have, and the many forms of support we experience year round, helping us to do a better job for you and our animals. Hopefully we bring some joy and happiness to your daily life, while sharing the beautiful creatures with whom we share the Earth. Come see us soon to relax, clear your mind, burn off some stress (or holiday sweets), and get back in touch with nature. Happy Holidays from Lee Richardson Zoo!