We loaded up the boys and arrived just as it started. Skipping the train ride (the lines were just too long), we went directly to the nocturnal animal exhibit. As we passed through the doors I noticed a politely worded sign asking visitors not to use flash photography or bright lights in this particular building since all the nocturnal animals are very sensitive to light. Three feet away from this sign, I saw a grown man using his iPhone to see (and incidentally, blind) the ringtail raccoon. I shook my head and have a disapproving look, which neither the man nor the now-blinded raccoon saw, and went on my way.
At the giraffe exhibit, the sweet zookeeper spent a minute going over instructions with Carter on how to feed the giraffe. He gave Carter the same spiel he gave everyone else: 'Hold the lettuce leaf out and the giraffe will take it from you. He might lick your hand even, and that's ok, but we ask that you please not pet the giraffes.'
Carter walked over and followed the instructions to the letter, as did most of the other children. However, suddenly I heard the zookeeper say sternly, 'Ma'am, please don't pet the giraffes.' I looked over to see a grown woman, nearing headlock closeness with one of the biggest giraffes, one arm around its neck and the other stroking its elongated face from top to nose. The zookeeper literally had to walk over to her and gently remove her from the giraffe to get her to quit.
After those two instances of adult misbehavior, I wasn't terribly surprised at what happened next...
Jeffrey was holding Harrison and I was walking with Carter as we moved toward the exit to leave. Jeffrey and Harrison were a short distance ahead of us, as I was being forced to walk at 3-year-old speed, subject to the distraction of butterflies, gusts of wind, and random thoughts. I saw them exit ahead of us, but then as we arrived at the exit gate, a zoo employee hastily closed it in front of us. Confused, I went over to the zoo store, where I assumed we were now supposed to exit. An employee blocked my way into the store.
I said, 'Can we get out through here?'
'No,' she responded, 'The zoo is on lockdown until further notice. We believe a bird has been stolen.'
The visitors had now been put into a situation uncomfortably similar to that of the zoo animals...literally caged in. The human animals, of course, did not take this forced incarceration well. I watched as patron after patron walked up to the gate and then were refused exit. Some paced angrily, like the leopards. Some looked despondent and tired, like the lion. Some chattered nervously, like the twittering birds. And adding insult to injury, we all watched as storm clouds began to roll in toward our makeshift, open-air cage.
Carter, for his part, handled the delay quite well. As was the theme for the night, the children behaved much better than the adults. And after about 25 minutes of waiting, the lockdown was lifted and we made it to the car just as the first raindrops fell on the wild plains of Abilene.
I never heard of the missing bird was found, if it was actually stolen or simply missing in action, or if they simply gave up looking. All I knew was that when they opened that gate, I had to get out of there before someone tried to stuff a rhino in their SUV.