The San Diego Zoo is one of the great attractions in southern California. I still remember touching the Galapagos Tortoises at the SD Zoo during my first visit more than 50 years ago. When I was a kid, I spent most of my summers in various swimming pools, libraries and science fiction conventions. Not once did I attend a summer camp. Who needs camp in Hollywood if you’ve got good student discount movie passes and daily chances to swim? No, I never did go to summer camp and I can’t say I ever felt especially deprived.
The San Diego Zoo Art Camp actually is set up for all ages. I didn’t require any special dispensation to be able to attend. There’s a lot to be said for the experience; certainly it was a highlight of the summer for me. It is much different to go to the zoo for a day and spend an hour at a single exhibit compared to a typical visit where you’re trying to see as much as possible. It’s also cool to go to the zoo for several hours a day, five days in a row.
There is a lot to be said for hanging out with children, too. The kids ranged in age from 8 to 14. All of them were charming and most of them were accomplished young artists. It was a pleasure to spend the week with Elana, getting behind the scenes glimpses into the working of the zoo. We both enjoyed studying and practicing the art of drawing, too. The teacher was generous with her knowledge and patient with her students. Here is my elephant and Lana’s giraffes, to show you what we were up to.
When we were at Art Camp back in 2010, Elana got a great photograph of an outraged and hungry tiger. Maybe it was a little risky for me to dangle her over the protective barrier just to get a really good picture, but I figured it was a good way for us to bond, plus it’s invaluable for young people to face death and live to tell the tale.
This year it was my turn to get a spectacular picture of a deadly predator without the presence of bars or glass barriers in the way to mess up the shot. Here’s the picture – a furious and ravenous crocodile!
These animals are impressive killing machines, but they have a tender side too – they care for their babies with far more attention to detail than most reptiles. They have eyes as acute as owls and also superb hearing. Crocs can swim and run very fast, too. They tend to be ambush hunters, lying in wait for unsuspecting prey. This was my big advantage. Surprise was on my side. Most captive crocodiles are not used to guys with cameras making a hurried run-through in order to get a quick photograph!
As you can see, the picture was well worth any short-term danger. Sure, I know a lot of idiots get killed at zoos every year. They drop their camera into the tiger cage and try to retrieve it, or they want to pet the nice panda or polar bear. Those folks are Darwin Award candidates for sure. What the High Cabal doesn’t want you to know about are all the people who take less outrageous, more calculated risks for the sake of art.
OK, I understand that it is against the rules and generally accepted notions of common sense for an ordinary middle-aged clown to risk life and limb for a photograph. Still, nobody got hurt. It is true that the croc did go after me a split-second after I took the picture, but the fact that I’m writing this is proof that he didn’t get me. It’s also true that some of the zoo attendees were quite frightened by the sudden action in the crocodile enclosure. I admit that I didn’t expect to have quite such a close call, and it’s also true that I didn’t know that the croc would end up slamming into the glass so forcefully. I imagine a few of the folks were a little flustered by the experience. Well, I say that the picture was worth it. You be the judge.