United States of America

OGGA! Oh My! — An Orangutan, A Giraffe, A Gorilla and an Anteater at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

Winston was waiting for us in the corner of his exhibit with his female partner, son Monroe and other family members behind him because Winston is the dominant silverback lowland gorilla at the World Famous San Diego Zoo Safari Park (SDZ Safari Park). Fernando, an anteater, just awoke from a nap and Zinvvhi (ZenVee), a giraffe, was waiting on us too. The one thing they all had in common was food. Each one clearly loved their cuisine.IMG_2275 (1) Winston gorilla 2018

For Winston, age 48 and 600 pounds, lunch included a large whole green squash. Clutching the squash in his huge plastic-like polished leather right hand, he eagerly stuck it in his big pink mouth and chomped it in half. Several chews later, he finished off the other half. Next was a huge carrot which he finished in two bites.

The gorillas and orangutans just love these treats and they have to find them wherever they are given to them.

After several rounds of mixed whole vegetables, it was time for the grand finale, corn. It obviously was his favorite as he loudly smacked and chewed and smacked till it was gone. He hit the wall with his big right hand telling his keeper, Mandi, he wanted more corn and she gave him another corn on the cob. As he took his first bite, young Monroe could no longer maintain his composure and suddenly lunged to grab Winston’s corn. Winston lunged back at him.

Mandi showed us one of the gorillas bedrooms. And the keepers keep it nice and clean for them so they can relax and sleep. The bedrooms are connected and the gorillas choose who they want to sleep with each day.

Winston was hitting the wall again wanting more corn. And when we left, Winston was smacking loudly eating more corn. The other seven members of the gorilla troop watched, waiting patiently for Winston to finish so they could eat their lunch at the eating station.

The San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California USA  has four Orangutans who are known as the clowns of the apes. They will keep you laughing at their funny antics.DSC_0095 Our visit coincided with their afternoon snack time. Each day, volunteers take the snacks and put them in different objects so the orangutans experience different ways of extracting food from various objects that Tanya gives them.

Karen was peeking through a glass wall to look at the people looking at her. A glasss wall has to separate them because orangutans can get any illness a human has. So, the glass viewing wall keeps the orangutans well.

Clever and smart, orangutans quickly figure out how to get the snack from an object. Watching the discovery process is great entertainment for the zoo guests.DSC_0013

One treat was encased in a round plastic ball with several holes and each hole stuffed with excelsior. To get to the snack, each orangutan had to pull the excelsior from the ball to find the treat. It was so much fun watching each one figure out how to get to the treat of in-shell peanuts.

Aisha, the youngest orangutan, is learning to hunt the treats.

And then watching their plastic-like polished leather hands peel the shell from the peanut and put the nut in their big pink mouth was both intriguing and fun to watch. They all were just so precious.

Karen had finished her snack when she started rolling over and over for the guests.

Then there was Fernando, an anteater from a South America Rain Forest, who lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. DSC_0296.jpgDSC_0289At 10 am, Fernando had just awakened from his nap and was ready to eat. So, with a bowl of soupy tan liquid with tiny pellets in the bottom, Fernando began to slurp and slurp and slurp the liquid and suck the pellets into his mouth the same way he would slurp up ants. His tiny mouth and long skinny tongue are perfectly designed for sucking up ants, his favorite food.DSC_0290

Fernando is an “Ambassador Animal” at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. He goes around with his keeper, Ryane, for guests to pet him and learn about anteaters on an up-close-and-personal basis. He obviously loves being petted by guests.DSC_0287

Another Ambassador is Milo, a Kinkakou, a native mammal of the South American Rain Forest. His thick, short dark brown hair made him look like a live fur collar on Ryane. Goldie, a male Cockatoo, was ready to show us his tricks. Goldie is very smart and loves the attention he gets being an Ambassador. Some of his tricks included hollering like a hawk, swinging upside down and fluffing his head feathers like he is mad.DSC_0318

Zimvvhi, a giraffe, had a baby just two days before we met her. During our tour of the 1800-acre Safari Park, Zimvvhi came up to our Caravan Safari truck seeking a treat. And of course, we just happened to have her favorite leaves.DSC_0444

Kinvvhi’s 2-day old baby

Her best friend, Mara, approached us, wanting to join Zimvvhi’s party. We loved watching their long dark tongues wrap around the long skinny leaves we were giving them. It was exactly like giraffe’s eat in the wild from Africa’s Acacia tree. And each person on the Caravan Safari gave them more and more.DSC_0561 - Copy

As we fed Mara, we spotted Kacy with her new Rhino baby, Justin, the 97th Southern White Rhino baby born at the SDZ Safari Park. Two other female Rhinos are pregnant and due in July, making the 98 and 99th baby Rhinos born at the SDZ Safari Park.DSC_0600.JPG

Rachel, our guide for the Caravan Safari, said when babies are born at a zoo or animal park it means the animals are happy and comfortable there. When no babies are born, something is wrong. The Safari Park is using in vitro fertilization to produce the almost extinct Northern White Rhinos.DSC_0605

The Safari Park’s terrain closely resembles some areas of the bush in Africa. Our very popular Caravan Safari truck came upon Maoto, a Southern White Rhinoceros, who also wanted a snack. Each person on the truck gave Maoto his most favorite leaf snack. How thrilling it was to be so close to a dangerous wild animal and have our photo taken while feeding him!

L to R Barbara, Sharon and Rachel showed us some of the snacks we could choose. In the background is our Safari Caravan truck we rode in all over the Safari Park. It was like we were on an African Safari. Caravan Safaris offered are 2 hours or 3 1/2 hours.

And then a surprise happened just like on an African Safari. We stopped for OUR snack and restroom break half-way through the 3½-hour tour. Waiting for us right in the middle of the wild open land was a portable potty made private by a bamboo fence, and a short walk away, a covered patio with table and chairs. At the serving table displayed three large trays of all kinds of snacks, vitamin drinks and water served to us by Rachel, our guide, and Barbara, our truck driver. We were as delighted as the animals we had just visited to get OUR snacks and potty break.DSC_0486DSC_0525

Refreshed, our Caravan Safari truck came upon a herd of Somali Wild Asses, including a barely dry baby born that morning. So cute. A camel was accompanying them.

Next, we saw a Black Rhinoceros which had just arrived from Florida that morning. A Roan Antelope’s new baby was hiding motionless in the grass just like they do in the wild, to be safe while Mother is away eating grass. And we saw a beautiful Kudu with big antlers.DSC_0508DSC_0535

As we toured the big park, we learned that 9,000 pounds of food is fed to all animals per day at the Safari Park. The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have 750,000 plants and 197 species of birds, with over a thousand specimens available for viewing. Mammals total 138 species, with 1728 specimens on view. Reptile Amphibians number 16 species with 40 specimens on view.

The 100-acre San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California and 1800 acre SDZ Safari Park in Escondido, California, 35 miles north of the Zoo, contain more than 4,000 different animals.DSC_0338

Another beautiful experience was The Bird Show at the Safari Park where we were able to see some of those bird species. Jenn, the MC and keeper of the birds, just loved those in the show and each one was presented with its attributes. We got to enjoy Gazzy, an East African Crown Crane, who flew over our heads to another keeper who had a snack. And then Gazzy flew back to another keeper and then to its perch.DSC_0347

Then, all of a sudden, a Red River Hog from Africa named Rudy, walked from one end of the stage to the other and didn’t say a word. He was so cute, colorful and so funny that everyone laughed. He made several trips back and forth on the stage and stole the show. Then a huge owl flew over our heads to a keeper with a snack and back to another keeper with one.DSC_0355

Next, it was Nelson’s turn to fly over our heads and fly he did. He was so fast, if we blinked, we missed him. Nelson, a Falcon, is known as the fastest bird in the world. And he presented a show for us to see his attributes and abilities.DSC_0401

The final bird at the Bird Show was the Secretary Bird, Aren. He was so beautiful and colorful and large. We learned why the bird is called a Secretary bird because the person who named him many years ago in Africa said “he walks like my secretary.” So, the bird was named the Secretary bird for her strutting walk. And Aren is a perfect Secretary bird.

Twelve guests from the audience volunteered to line up side by side and hold out their arms with hands in a knot while this Hornbill walked from one person to the other. Sharon did a good job letting the hornbill pass over her arms twice.

We couldn’t leave the Safari Park without seeing the Lemurs from Madagascar at the Safari Park. DSC_0226The Ring-tail Lemurs were sunbathing themselves with their arms straight out to make sure every inch received sun. DSC_0232 Lemur 2019And this Coquerel’s Sifakas Lemur was viewing the entire area and seeing what was happening while doing a little sunbathing.

We left the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park loving each one we had a personal encounter with and agreed to return to the world’s best zoo again and again for there were hundreds more animals for us to meet. And when we left Winston, was hitting the wall again wanting more corn-on-the-cob and Monroe was still trying to grab it from him.

Photo Copy © 2019

DSC_0241 pinl orchard 2019DSC_0394Carolyn at the Zoo 2019

United States of America

Almost Human in a Gorilla Suit


Fernando serves Maka his first spoonful of banana baby food.

  He ate sitting up just like a baby as Fernando fed him a snack of banana baby food from the jar with a metal spoon. And he ate it fast because he LOVES human baby food. But, instead of being a baby, he is an silverback adult male Western Lowland Gorilla named Maka living at the San Diego Zoo, California, United States of America.


He opened his big pink mouth full of big white teeth and ate each spoonful in an instant. Fernando Covarrubias, a gorilla keeper for 30 years at the San Diego Zoo, cannot feed Maka fast enough. And if he stops, Maka knocks on his bedroom door or wall for more. Maka has 98% DNA of a human yet he is a gorilla with 2 chromosomes from being human.

All gorillas have access to the open air yard, and are rotated on exhibit and off exhibit throughout the day. When they are off-exhibit in their bedrooms, it gives keepers a chance to check their health and work on training.


Maka waiting for another bite of baby food.
Maka waiting for another bite of baby food.


Many times, Fernando explained, vitamins and needed medicines are mixed in the baby food to keep Maka healthy. And Maka always takes his meds because he loves his baby food so much and he doesn’t even wear a bib or get one drop of food on his beautiful black hair or his body.


Fernando, keeper of gorillas for 30 years, at the San Diego Zoo.
Fernando, keeper of gorillas for 30 years, at the San Diego Zoo.

For their main nutrition, Fernando gives each gorilla daily biscuits full of plant matter and vital nutrients because gorillas are leaf eaters. These biscuits are formulated to be like the nutrients gorillas eat in the wild. As the gorillas eat their biscuits each morning, they are kept separate so Fernando will know each one is getting complete nutrition.


Now it was time for different vegetables and fruits like bananas, apples, figs and plant-based foods they feed the gorillas. Between the bite-size fruit treats, Maka showed how he communicates with Fernando.  “Show me your left ear,” Fernando said, and Maka showed his left ear through the bars in his bedroom. “Show you right foot,” and Maka lifted his huge right foot into Fernando’s hand so he could check it out.

Maka shows his ear for examination by Fernando.
Maka shows his ear for examination by Fernando.

 Next, Maka stuck his left hand out and Fernando held his hand and examined it. It was the cutest big plastic-looking hand with huge fingers twice the size of a male human adult’s. “Turn around and show your back,” and Maka showed his beautiful silverback so Fernando could look at it. “You are good to go for today,” Fernando told Maka, as he had just completed his daily medical exam.DSC_0428


“We train the gorillas and all the animals here in the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park to respond to our requests so we can keep them healthy just like a Mother would do her child.”We are their keeper, primary nurse, chef, behavior specialist, maid and cleaner, friend, and teacher,” Fernando said admiringly. “We would like to teach Maka how to work a touch screen computer.”

20-month-old Monroe in constant motion
20-month-old Monroe in constant motion

While all of this was going on at the San Diego Zoo, 20-month old Monroe was romping, tumbling, rumbling, running and eating carrots for all the visitors to see at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park where he was born June 17, 2011. In a second, he would be riding the back of his surrogate great-great-grandmother, Vila, for a few feet and then she would put him off.

Vila died January 25, 2018 surrounded by her gorilla family group. She was 60 years old and the second oldest lowland gorilla in the world. DSC_1003

Vila held the record as the second oldest gorilla in the world living in captivity. when Monroe was nearing his terrible two’s, most of the adults in the gorilla troop don’t want to run and play full time with Monroe.

Monroe eating s snack on the run.
Monroe eating s snack on the run.

Enter Frank, a 4-year-old gorilla from another gorilla family troop at the San Diego Zoo, as a potential playmate for Monroe”, Peggy Sexton, lead keeper in the Mammal Dept. at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park explained.

Peggy Sexton, lead keeper in the Mammal Department at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Peggy Sexton, lead keeper in the Mammal Department at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

“We’re bringing Frank and Monroe together so they can be together throughout their lives in a bachelor troop, if necessary, and it is best to introduce them as youngsters.


Watching Monroe!
Watching Monroe!

Monroe and Frank, being from different troops, however, are getting to know one another as they visit through bars in their adjoining bedrooms. Smelling, watching, touching, running back and forth, and playing is helping to bond these cute little gorilla children together so they can eventually grow up together in the same troop. After a careful introduction period, they were brought together in the same exhibit to run, play and have disagreements just like real brothers while the older adults continue to sit and watch. Vila,the great-great grandmother and Monroe continue to be best friends.


Another one who doesn’t run and play much is Winston, the dominant silverback male, born in the wild in West Africa. “This huge gorilla with a beautiful silverback, loves to eat raisins that the keeper throws around the free roaming exhibit for him and his troop members to pick off the ground one at a time with those huge fingers,” Rex Little, volunteer docent at the gorilla exhibit, pointed out. Then 420-pound Winston walked around and collected 15-inch long lettuce leaves then sat on a log to eat them. He was a picture of contentment, happiness and joy as he sat on the log eating lettuce and watching Monroe.

 Monroe’s Mother, Kokamo, also closely watches her active baby as she goes about her daily life in the exhibit and he goes about his baby antics and is into everything. He practices pounding on his chest with his fists like a silverback gorilla does to show dominance. Monroe watches every move the adults make and then copies them.

  Another adult female listening to all the action is Imani. She is Frank’s surrogate mom who waits in her
bedroom with Frank until it is their turn in the exhibit yard. Imani is included  in Winston’s troop with Frank now.
Gorilla females can have a baby every 4 years, and, hopefully, in the future, Monroe may get another playmate in addition to Frank.

 After a full day of non-stop activities, Monroe, Kokamo, Winston, Vila, and Kamilah, sleep together in their bedroom on wood excelsior and other nesting materials. In the morning, after having their morning meal (including low starch primate biscuits), Winston, and Kokamo carrying baby Monroe in her arms, make their grand entrance into the exhibit together for the world to see the leaders of their family troop. The others follow, until all 5 troop members are in the exhibit eating their raisin treats.


Monroe "playing" with an elderly family member.
Monroe “playing” with an elderly family member.

And they all watch Monroe and Frank while they play, explore, romp and get attention and admiration of the guests at the Safari Park while Maka awaits his next snack of banana baby food at the San Diego Zoo. It’s a wonderful gorilla life.

Monroe and his antics.
Monroe and his antics.
Sitting and watching Monroe.
Sitting and watching Monroe.
Satu, the dominant male amoung the Orangutan family, wonders what Janey and I are talking about.
Satu, the dominant male amoung the Orangutan family, wonders what Janey and I were talking about.
Janey and I have a conversation in the Orangutan exhibit.
Janey and I have a conversation in the Orangutan exhibit.
Maggie with the San Diego Zoo Global on the left and Mary Moore, volunteer Orangutan expert, on the right.
Maggie with the San Diego Zoo Global on the left and Mary Moore, volunteer Orangutan expert, on the right.
Bai Yun and her baby hugging at the San Diego Zoo.
Bai Yun and her baby hugging at the San Diego Zoo.
Mr. & Mrs. Giraffe at the San Diego Zoo.
Mr. & Mrs. Giraffe at the San Diego Zoo.
An elephant puts her foot out so the keeper can give her a pedicure.
An elephant puts her foot out so the keeper can give her a pedicure.
OH, what a big yawn!
OH, what a big yawn!
Borneo Indonesia Malaysia Oceania

Orangutans, Dr. Birute Galdikas, Proboscis Monkeys, Camp Leakey in Borneo

Getting charged by a female orangutan, being with Dr. Birute Galdikas for 2 days and seeing and interacting with orangutans in their native habitat was the highlight of “Faces in the Forest” from Singapore to Bali, with stops in Borneo.

  • Having the founder of Camp Leakey, Dr. Birute Galdikas, join us in Borneo’s Camp Leakey near Tanjung Puting National Park to show and tell us about her experiences and why she started Camp Leakey and loves orangutans. Priceless.

    Dr. Biruite Galdikas
  • Touring the Orangutan Care Center with Dr. Birute Galdikas, the world’s #1 authority on orangutans. Priceless
  • Getting to hold an infant orangutan in diapers and teenager in my arms at the Orangutan Care Center in Camp Leaky near Tanjung Putting National Park while Dr. Galdikas told us each one’s name and individual rescue story. Beyond Priceless and a dream come true.
  • Momma and Baby at Camp Leakey.
  • Learning that The Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), the non-profit organization that funds the Orangutan Care Center (OCC) wants to buy more pristine forest land next to the OCC because they do not have enough forest for the orphaned and rescued orangutans to live in their wild habitat.
  • Learning that any one can donate any amount of money to the The Orangutan Foundation International ( to help make the goal of buying more natural forest adjacent to the Orangutan Care Center and that in the USA it is a 5013c tax deductible donation.

    Learning that Dr. Galdikas, president of OFI,  has studied orangutans longer than any other person in human history and has worked ceaselessly to save orangutans and forests, and to bring orangutans and their loss of the rainforest plight to the attention of the world.

Enjoying every minute with the orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the Singapore Zoo while (now owned by National Geographic) Orion was boarding 78 new passengers for the Singapore/Borneo/Bali segment.

  • Going for a second time to Semenggoh Rehabilitation Center in a medium heavy rain and walking into the rainforest to photograph 4 orangutans that had come for a morning snack and then leaving the rain forest to go to another viewing platform when Hot Mamma and her baby and 2 other orangutans came to eat their snack, giving us another “greatest show on earth”. AWESOME.

    Hot Mamma and her baby at Semenggoh
  • Seeing Big Momma and her baby kissing and another baby yawning at Semenggoh Rehab Center in the pouring rain and capturing the second it happened in a photo. Priceless.
  • Learning the many terms and uses for palm tree oil in a speech called “The Good Oil??” Unbelievable.
  • Enjoying Trivia everyday at 4:30 pm on the (National Geographic) Orion expedition ship and hearing the MC from France jokingly take points away from teams that didn’t agree with the answer, argued, or questioned him. So much fun and a laughing good time.
  • Snorkeling in Tanjung Lintang and Tanjung Seitah, two islands in the South China Sea between Borneo and Singapore, then having a BBQ Dinner on the beach.
  • Arriving at each “port” by getting in a 10-person rubber raft boat called a Zodiac that was rocking back and forth 12 inches up and 12 inches down then sideways up and down then traveling to shore for 15-45 minutes at 15 knots while sitting on the Zodiac edge holding on for dear life as it regularly slammed into and over waves all the way to shore, only to walk in water or muddy mud/sand for 15 to 150 feet to shore. Adventure to the max.

    Momma and Baby kissing in the rain.
  • Learning that orangutans are considered the smartest of the great apes and they have great patience.
  • Having a wonderful lunch of hamburger, French fries, coke and banana split in Singapore, compliments of (National Geographic) Orion.
  • Enjoying every minute with the orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the Singapore Zoo while the (National Geographic) Orion was boarding new passengers on the next segment, Singapore to Bali.

    A male Proboscis Monkey at Singapore Zoo
  • Having 78 new passengers on “Faces in the Forest” segment to Bali on the (National Geographic) Orion, with 8 “stowaways” as we were called along with 6 others, from the previous “Rajahs, Riches and Rainforests” cruise from Kota Kinabalu.
  •  Snorkeling on Tanjung Lintang and not being able to see the mountain next door because of the heavy smoke from the burning forests in Borneo.
  • Absolutely and totally enjoying “Faces in the Forest” segment of (National Geographic) Orion Borneo cruise with 75 crew members from the Philippines who gave excellent service, and 86 enjoyable passengers from the USA, Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Philippines, Germany, UK, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway and Peru.
  • Having lunch on the (National Geographic) Orion and meeting a couple from New Zealand, Julie and Mel, plus a couple from Indonesia and Australia, Bob and Yanti, and discussing our travels and travel stories. Absolutely fabulous.
  • Going to Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan, Indonesia, on the island of Borneo, my #143 country to visit.

    Leaving Camp Leakey and Tanjung Puting National Park in a klotok.
  • Losing my new camera and not missing it until the following day and (National Geographic) Orion Reception manager saying it had not been found, only to get a phone call 5 minutes later saying it had been found because it was labeled with my name. Priceless, Priceless, Priceless.
  • Learning that humans can have a blood transfusion from chimpanzees that have almost 99% DNA as humans, depending on blood type and that they have the strength of 5 humans.
  • Visiting Bako National Park for the second time in one week in Sarawak on the island of Borneo and seeing a Pit Viper, all green and waiting in a tree for prey to come,  Macaque monkeys, one with a baby, and proboscis monkeys. Fun.

    Pit Viper in Bako National Park, Borneo
  • Seeing the heavy smoked terrain from the middle central of Borneo all the way south and west to Singapore and not getting to see the true color of everything due to the burning of the forest’s wood to make way for palm tree plantations. Palm oil and its products are used in processed foods around the world.
  • Watching orangutans come down from the rainforest in the rain to the platform via ropes to grab a dozen bananas at a time and carrying them any way possible with their feet to their mouth and returning up the rope to a safe place on the nearest tree to enjoy their morning snack.

    Grab and Go in Semenggoh in the rain.
  • Learning that Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo is known as the city of Hornbills, only to learn there are no Hornbills now because the trees in the rainforest where they lived have been cut down to make way for palm oil plantations and developments.
  • Learning that Hornbills are the #1 keystone fauna in importance, because if Hornbills go, everything else goes because Hornbills spread the seeds that keep flora and fauna going.
  • Learning that “Borneo” resulted in an Anglicized version of “Brunei”, which used to occupy the entire island of Borneo until Brunei gave part of its kingdom to Malaysia and Indonesia, saving enough land for the current Kingdom of Brunei Darussalem which luckily contained the vast oil reserves.
  • Learning that gorilla’s DNA is 98% like humans and they have the strength of 6 humans.
  •  Learning that Kalimantan, the southern section of Borneo owned by Indonesia where Tanjung Puting National Park is located, means “river of gems” or “river of diamonds” which are found in abundance in some areas.
  • Learning that Orangutans are perfectly at ease being solitary or semi-solitary and do not need constant social reassurance, nor do they fear being along or lonely, the opposite of other great apes and humans.

    An adult male orangutan.
  • Learning from Fred Galdikas, Dr. Birute Galdikas’s son, who was born and raised in Camp Leakey, about his Mother’s Orangutan research, how he was raised with the orangutans and other children in the camp, and how the orangutans taught him to climb a tree.

Learning that Camp Leakey has 340 orangutans led by Tom, the 300+ pound dominant male orangutan.

  • Learning that the Orangutan Care Center, established in 1998, has 60 orphaned and rescued infants and teenagers.
  • Being told when visiting Camp Leakey, the only place left in Borneo to see wild orangutans, to let the orangutans come voluntarily to us, and don’t fight back if they grab us or our possessions because a ranger will come and help.

    Mooch showing us she is boss.
  • Learning the difference between monkeys and apes–monkeys have tails and apes don’t.
  • Learning that New World Primates are from South America and that Old World Apes are from Africa and Asia.
  • Holding a baby orangutan that did not smell, was heavy, hot, strong and loving. An unbelievable dream come true.

    My baby boy was so loving.
  • Watching the orangutans with Dr.Galdikas at Camp Leakey come in from the forest for a snack of bananas and nutritious milk supplement. Priceless
  • Watching a mother and baby orangutan bury their heads together in a box of milk supplement thereby causing their behinds to be up in the air while drinking. So funny.
  • Enjoying the hugs from 12 infant orangutans at the Orangutan Care Center (OCC).
  • Ranking the Orangutan Care Center, where we fell in love with 12 infants and Dr. Galdikas, the best part of the trip.
  •  Getting charged by Mooch, a 25 year-old female orangutan while sitting on a bench at Camp Leakey “because I exuded confidence and therefore I was in her territory,” according to Dr. Birute Galdikas. Priceless.

    Being shown the way to the snack platform in Camp Leakey.
  • Being met at the Camp Leakey dock by Mooch the orangutan and then being led into the camp by a mother and baby orangutan. Amazing and so much fun.
  • Seeing a beautiful black and white gibbon ape at Camp Leakey doing acrobatics.

    Gibbon ape
  • Seeing the orangutan hospital at the Orangutan Care Center, learning how they operate on, do tests on and care for sick orangutans and seeing inside an orangutan vet’s office.
  • Learning that inside an orangutan’s body is exactly the same as a human’s body.
  • Seeing a tree full of 15 to 20 Proboscis monkeys, each sitting on a separate limb like Christmas lights, while gliding in a klotok back to the (National Geographic) Orion at dusk. Absolutely awesome.

    A “Proboscis Monkey” Tree near Camp Leakey
  • Having one second to take a photo of those 15-20 proboscis monkeys sitting in a tree. A beautiful photo.
  • Having the orangutans walk freely among us at Camp Leakey and they were fun, not dangerous. Such an unexpected treat.

    Camp Leakey is his home.
  • Having Erin surprisingly jump into Tom’s arms because “Erin doesn’t have anything to do with people” Dr. Galdikas said.
  • Riding in a klotok, with kitchen, toilet and main room, at 5 miles per hour down the Black River to Camp Leaky eating lunch prepared by the (National Geographic) Orion exploration ship. Totally enjoyable.
  • Seeing many trees with Proboscis monkeys at dusk sitting in trees eating with their babies nearby.
  • Gliding down the Black River and Semanyer River in a klotok at night with the quarter moon and stars putting a fabulous glow on the water. Beautiful.
  • Enjoying the slow, smooth, easy gliding klotok, making it hard to stay awake to look for orangutans and proboscis monkeys.
  •  Having lunch with Dr. Birute Galdikas and learning what it was like associating with Dian Fossey studying gorillas, Jane Goodall studying chimpanzees and Louis Leakey, who discovered the oldest living human in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The three ladies are known and “the Leakey Angels.”
  • Meeting a lovely couple on the Singapore to Bali segment, Bob and Yanti from Jakarta, Indonesia, on the island of Java, and being invited to enjoy their private tour of Jakarta, making my #144th country/entity to visit in the world. Outstanding.
  • Ending the “dream of a lifetime” (National Geographic) Orion exploration experience in Bali and being told “Goodbye” by Dr. Birute Galdikas with a “Thank You” hug and then kiss on the check. Beyond Priceless.
  • Seeing the smoke from Borneo all the way inside Singapore from the burning forest trees to make way for the many palm oil plantations..

    Mooch showing her stuff at Camp Leakey
  • Learning that Borneo is the third largest island (after Greenland and Papua New Guinea) in the world and that Sumatra and Borneo are the only 2 places in the world where orangutans remain and their habitat is being destroyed by the minute for palm oil plantations.
  • Learning that it is projected that orangutans will no longer exist in the wild by 2022.
  • Learning that it takes $1200 USD a year to maintain an infant/baby orangutan at the Orangutan Care Cener and that there are 360 of them being raised and cared for at the OCC now.
  • Learning that the best things one can do in the rainforet is to use a flashlight when dark as it alerts the animals, cobras, etc. to avoid that area or that light.
  • Learning that it is feast or famine at the Orangutan Care Center because the fruits in the rainforest are seasonal, making it necessary to supplement feed.
  • Learning that orangutans now are working on computers and the iPad at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. because they are very intelligent,
  • Learning from Dr. Galdikas that the orangutans constantly are active removing locks, handles, latches, and breaking doors and windows on her house at Camp Leakey. Plus, she said they figure out how things operate and are smart about mechanics.
  • Learning from Dr. Galdikas that the orangutans at Camp Leakey figure out when she is coming by the sound of her boat and where it docks, by the behavior of her assistants getting things in order for her arrival, and if she doesn’t stay the night in her house they know she will be back the next day.
  • Learning that Dr. Galdikas works with students from all over the world who come to study orangutans just like she has done since she was 25 years old in Camp Leakey, Borneo.DSC_0110

Observing that every orangutan mother I saw carried and held her baby under her left arm and used her free right arm and hand for eating food and doing whatever she needed to do.Amazing.

Borneo Brunei Darussalem

National Parks, Monkeys, Orangutans, and Palm Oil in Borneo

FOLLOWING is our adventures and observations of “Rajahs, Riches & Rainforests”of the Orion Expedition Cruises tour of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo to Singapore.

  • · Seeing our first Proboscis Monkeys, with the long protruding nose, in the Klias Wetlands in Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, and photographing the reddish-brown-gray tree-living monkeys in a mangrove tree forest while rocking back and forth from a small boat. Almost impossible.

    Proboscis Monkey
  • · Learning that the Proboscis Monkey is endemic only to Borneo and that the male’s up to 7-inch long nose is thought to attract females and to act as a resounding chamber to amplify their warning calls. And when the male becomes agitated, the nose swells with blood, making the warning calls even louder and more intense.
  • · Getting our first leg of a 3- leg flight to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo aborted by United Airlines due to cabin pressure-air conditioning problems, only to have our entire route changed on an emergency basis and making it to Borneo thanks to the 8-hour non-stop performance by our Nexion, Inc. travel agent, Maureen Taylor, and Nancy, a United Airlines supervisor. Priceless.
  • · Watching our first orangutans at Semenggoh Rehabilitation Center in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo, suddenly come out of the forest and give us an aerial best show on earth when the keeper puts bananas on the eating platform and called the orangutans to come. Priceless.
  • · Being put in first class from San Francisco to Hong Kong by paying mileage points for the United Airlines flight mechanical problem and then going coach to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo and getting 3 seats together, therefore getting to sleep most of the flight. Unbelievable.
  • · Seeing the 1000+ year old water village, Kampong Ayer in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalem, which has 30,000 residents in houses on stilts and stretches 8 KM along the Brunei River. The well preserved national heritage site, called the Venice of the East, is the largest of its kind in the world and is self-contained with schools, police stations, clinics, fire brigade and mosques. A cluster of many villages connected by a web of walkways and bridges, Kampong Ayer has many village leaders which started the Sultanate’s civilization.

    Kampong Ayer Village on stilts in Brunei.
  • · Getting outstanding hotels in Hong Kong and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia at the last minute and getting the last room available in the Hong Kong airport hotel on our way to Borneo.
  • · Learning that lowland forest in Borneo is dominated by one family of trees called dipterocamps and that one single hectare of dipterocamp forest may have over 200 species of trees.
  • · Learning that Bako National Park on the coast in Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo is a Heath Forest which has acidic sandy soil that lacks nutrients, and therefore, has the world’s greatest diversity of pitcher plants that eat insects trapped in chambers full of enzyme-rich fluids.
  • · Enjoying the Hong Kong and Kota Kinabalu hotel’s Business Club Rooms with fabulous breakfasts and cocktail hours.
  • · Seeing and photographing Proboscis Monkeys and birds in Simalajau National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo, while rocking back and forth in a small boat on the waters of Sungai Similajau. Unbelievable.

    Proboscis Monkey
  • · Trying to find one lost luggage that did not arrive with us in Hong Kong and alerting everyone including our travel agent, Maureen Taylor of Houston, who immediately began working within the United Airlines system again.
  • · Seeing Borneo’s Bearded Pig in Bako National Park and being surprised at how friendly and skinny they are and how long their beard is.
  • · Meeting an English speaking couple in the Hyatt Club in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo, only to find out they were from Sydney, Australia and that wife, Lynette Silver, was a guest speaker on our first cruise and an expert on WWII in the Pacific and Sandakan Death March.
  • · Learning that Hornbills play an extremely important ecological role by traveling great distances and dispersing seeds of rainforest fruits that they eat. But they are threatened due to the destruction of the forest for wood and palm oil.
  • · Learning that the Sultan of Brunei Darussalem (means Abode of Peace) gives each person in his kingdom $1000 every month to live and that education and medical expenses are free to all.
  • · Watching everything come to a screeching halt when Big Daddy Ritchie, the dominant male orangutan, arrived at the feeding platform in Semenggoh Rehab Center. Both tourists and orangutans got out of his way. Priceless.
  • · Learning that Brunei Darussalem does not have any precious stones, it just has precious liquid.
  • · Learning that during Ramadan, His Majesty of Brunei Darussalem gives the male and female winner of the Al Quran reading competition $2000 per month each for life. People of all ages compete against each other reading the Quran.
  • · Watching another “greatest show on earth” as the other orangutans waited at a safe distance for their snack while Ritchie stuffed in his bananas snack at Semenggoh.
    Big Daddy Ritchie, the dominant male at Semenggoh Rehab Center.

    Learning that at the end of Ramadan, Hari Raya is then celebrated for several days where families visit each other, go to the mosque and give money to children and that everyone in a city celebrates it, no matter what their religion.

  • · Learning that there are no taxis in Brunei Darussalem because everyone has several cars.
  • · Learning that the price of one liter of gas in Brunei Darussalem is 53 cents as has been for over 20 years.
  • · Learning that His Majesty of Brunei Darussalem has a 2,000 room palace on 300 acres that has everything in it one could ever want.
  • · Learning that His Majesty of Brunei Darussalem has an emphasis on women and children because he wants to increase the population and therefore, gives women special attention at hospitals and other services.
  • · Finally getting our lost luggage one week later and having to pay $185 USD for it and really enjoying the Borneo experience now all because of one lady, Maureen Taylor, our A+++++ travel agent, who single handedly, put this trip together and then saved it for us to enjoy our dream trip of a lifetime.
  • · Going to the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Lubuan, Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo, where many of the Sandakan Death March soldiers are buried and hearing some of their individual stories from Lynette Silver, historian for the cruise.
  • · Learning that only France has as many Unknown Soldier’s graves from WWII as Lubuan, Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo.
  • · Going to Semenggoh Rehabilitation Center near Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo and getting the “greatest show on earth” from 7 orangutans living in semi-wild existence in the forest while having a morning snack of bananas. Absolutely priceless.
  • · Going to Matang Rehabilitation Center near Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo, and helping the Center’s keepers prepare a snack of chunked fruits and vegetables, hull and all, in a plastic liter bottle, and topping the final creation with honey or other favorite flavorings, and giving it to awaiting orangutans. The strong orangutans would then bite and tear their bottle open and munch every morsel non-stop.
    Making snacks for the orangutans.

    · Recapping each day with amazing photos of activities by the Orion Expedition team. Wonderful.

  • · Learning from Lynette Silver of Sydney, Australia, about those soldiers involved in the Sandakan Death March during WWII by the Japanese and how she uncovered the horrible conditions they endured through years of research and was able, therefore, to give them some proper recognition, burial and honors.
  • · Painting Matang Rehab Center’s 15-foot tall concrete wall green wearing rubber boots and gloves in the confiscated and orphaned monkeys and ape’s training yard in 100+degree heat, midday sun and 95% humidity without passing out. Amazing.
  • · Seeing modern cities along the northern and western coast of the island of Borneo. Unbelievable.
  • · Seeing Brunei Darussalem city and His Majesty’s gorgeous palace.
  • · Seeing 2 mosques in Brunei Darussalem, Sultan Omar Ali Saifiddien Mosque, which has 29 of each thing because he is the 29th sultan of Brunei Darussalem and it is his mosque, and Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. Both are absolutely perfect and gorgeous and we viewed them in the day and in the night.
  • · Learning that Tanjung Datu National Park, one of the smallest and most beautiful in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo, has near-pristine beaches on which endangered Green Turtles and Olive Ridley Turtles lay their eggs.
  • · Having a tour guide in Brunei Darussalem that was the happiest of all tour guides ever encountered anywhere in the world.
  • · Seeing the beautiful coral reefs at Natuna Seta and Anambas Lintang, 2 islands in Riau Islands Province, between Borneo and Singapore in the South China Sea, were absolutely beautiful.
  • · Getting a souvenir from Brunei Darussalem in the shape of a crystal octagon containing a teaspoon of precious Brunei oil.
  • · Seeing His Majesty’s of Brunei Darussalem gift collection from all the Heads of State of the countries of the world.
  • · Visiting the Singapore Zoo and photographing orangutans and proboscis monkeys, only to end the fabulous day at the Singapore Bird Park and seeing incredible birds and orchids. So much fun.
    Proboscis monkey at the Singapore Zoo

    · Touring His Majesty’s 2 museums in Brunei Darussalem and seeing his priceless collections.

  • · Learning that Brunei Darussalem has no precious stones, only precious liquid.
  • · Learning that Brunei Darussalem has about 50-60 years of oil reserve left.
  • · Learning that “orang utan” means “man of the forest” .
  • · Learning that orangutans are 96.8% like humans, are large and powerful solitary apes, human-like in their expressions, can “speak” sign language, are the only ape to live in the canopy of forests, have opposable toes on their feet effectively giving them 4 hands, have highly mobile hip joints, can walk upright, can lie, have a very slow breeding rate every 8 years, have babies that depend on the Mother until another baby is born, eat mainly fruits and wild figs, mangoes and rambutans and have the strength of 4 men combined.
  • · Seeing the first orangutan come in from the semi-wild in the Semenggoh (see meng go) Rehabilitation Center to eat a snack supplement. Priceless.
  • · Learning that Hot Mamma and Big Daddy Ritchie, dominant female and male at the Semenggoh Rehabilitation Center, love Coca-Cola and back packs because they think back packs have food in them, and therefore, both must be hidden from their view.
  • · Learning that Ritchie hates guns and if he sees an umbrella under the arm, walking stick or a telephoto lens he immediately thinks it is a gun and can attack or can get so mad he might destroy things at the Rehab Center, after the tourists leave.
  • · Learning that Ritchie does not like for the visitor to look directly in his eyes, to hear crying babies or any noises as he might get very mad, only to have a child throw a crying fit when Ritchie was stuffing in the bananas but he did not get upset then. Many times after the tourists leave, Ritchie does destroy property like the time he tore up a Porta-Potty and broke down a concrete telephone pole.
  • · Learning that Hot Mamma gets real nice when her photo is taken even though she might be mad and mean right before it, but that she and Ritchie do not like the camera flash to go off.
  • · Learning that every time there is a problem at Semenggoh Rehab Center, Hot Mamma is in the center of it or cause of it.
    Hot Mamma and her baby at Semenggoh.

    · Learning that if an orangutan comes toward you at Semenggoh, RUN in the opposite direction immediately to open spaces because if you run to an enclosed area, they will catch you because they are 96.4% human and know the same tactics as humans.

  • · Learning that the forest around Semenggoh Rehab Center can only support 6-8 orangutans, explaining the need to feed extra food supplements 2 times a day because there are 26 orangutans that are being rehabilitated for return to the wild.
  • · Learning that Semenggoh Rehab Center total orangutan count has now increased to 26 orangutans because an infant was just born the day before we arrived.
  • · Learning that Ritchie is the father of babies born at Semenggoh since he has been the dominant male of the center for 40 years because he runs off other male orangutans and kills any baby that is not his.
  • · Learning that orangutans can live 90-100 years and when a male becomes the dominant male, he suddenly develops huge cheek flaps that resemble the blinders on a horse. Plus, his hair grows long, is heavy and strong and develops a skin pocket from this throat to his chest for making loud calls and noises that can he heard a half mile away.
  • · Learning that Ritchie, Hot Mamma and the other orangutans are given privacy about half-way through each feeding so they can eat their snacks in peace and quiet with no visitors watching at Semenggoh.
  • · Learning the orangutans make a nest in the fork of a tree using leaves and soft branches every few days for sleeping and napping, and that they move to a new nest every few days.
  • · Watching a staff member at Semenggoh Rehab Center call the orangutans several times from the forest for their morning snack, only to suddenly have them show up, one by one. Absolutely AWESOME and breath taking.
  • · Learning how to take photos of wildlife from Mick Fogg, of the Orion Expedition Cruises team. Very Helpful.
  • · Going to Tanjung Datu National Park and walking the rainforest trail.
    Pristine rainforests cleared for palm oil plantations/developemnts.

    Learning that the pristine rainforests of Borneo are being destroyed daily to make way for palm oil plantations and developments, thereby eliminating orangutans and their wild habitat and projecting there will be no wild orangutans left within ten years in Borneo.

Borneo United States of America


It was our impossible dream. The first attempt at seeing those orange orangutans in the wild in Borneo had to be cancelled due to my medical problems. The second attempt at seeing them was aborted by the ship I was on due to a docking problem. The third attempt was an experience I will never forget.

Our first flight from home on a 3-leg journey to Borneo on August 1, 2012 was the beginning of our adventure.  The United Airlines jet took off as scheduled and about 20 minutes later, the pilot announced he was returning to our home airport because the air conditioning-cabin pressure was not working. I noticed I was freezing and then all of a sudden I was very hot and my ears were popping constantly. So we landed and all passengers waited in the terminal at the gate for repairs to be made.

That’s when the negotiating began between Maureen Taylor, my home-based A+ travel agent with Nexion, Inc., and Nancy Hamrick, an United Airlines Premier Dept. supervisor, because we just had missed our connection out of San Francisco to Seoul, South Korea and on to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo to see those orangutans, one of only 2 places left in the world where they live in the wild.Image

Hunting for 2 seats went back and forth. One minute we were going via Japan to Borneo, and the next minute, we were going via Hong Kong, then Singapore, and then Bangkok. Every possible route was examined for availability. It was like going through a maze trying to find that one open route. And Maureen Taylor was on the case with United Airlines from the minute I called her at 7:30 A.M. as we landed at our home airport. The value of having a travel agent proved priceless again. She knew how to work with the airlines, all the routes and how much we wanted to see those orangutans in the wild, plus she knew from experience to build in 2 extra days prior to a trip or cruise.

Maureen talked with Nancy at United Airlines for hours. Nancy was beyond super and gave beyond outstanding help and service, trying to come up with an itinerary that would get us into Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo by 2 p.m. Saturday, August 4, 2012 because we had a ship to catch. That ship, the Orion II Expedition Cruises out of Australia, was going to take us on a 22-day cruise around Borneo to see those precious orange orangutans in their natural wild habitat in the rainforests of Borneo.

But there was a problem. Every United flight was full and every class of service was full that would get us to Borneo by 2 p.m. August 4, 2012. Nancy and Maureen continued the challenge non-stop to find a solution. Somewhere, somehow, both were determined to find 2 open seats any way they could that would get us to Borneo by our deadline.

During these discussions, the original plane that had the air-conditioning-air pressure problem was declared repaired and ready to fly to San Francisco. And it was decided by both ladies that our number one goal was to just get to San Francisco, and the 3-hour flying time would give Nancy and Maureen time to find a route with 2 available seats that would meet our deadline from San Francisco.

Upon arrival in San Francisco, I called Maureen and she immediately sent us to the international United Airlines gate 100 because 2 seats had been found. “Go straight to Gate 100 immediately and don’t even go to the restroom, just go fast as possible,” Maureen said to me in her desperate sounding voice. And to our shock, the seats were in first class and they were the only seats available that would get us to Borneo in time to meet our Orion II Expedition cruise.

But there was another roadblock. It would cost more money to get those first class seats as we were not originally in first class. Nancy and Maureen then went to work on this new problem and a solution was found whereby a certain number of my United Frequent Flyer miles would be used to upgrade us to these 2 available seats. Finally, there was a solution for us to meet that Orion II ship.

But wait. Another problem then surfaced. Asiana Airlines, which was originally scheduled to fly us from Seoul, South Korea to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo, would not release our seats on their flight. Again, Nancy and Maureen went to work to find a solution to this new roadblock and they found it. A United Airlines supervisor at the San Francisco airport personally walked over to the Asiana Airlines desk at the airport and spoke to an agent about releasing our 2 seats due to United’s mechanical problem.

And to our amazement, Asiana Airlines released our seats and United was then able to confirm our 2 seats in United first class to Hong Kong, followed by 2 seats in coach on Malaysia Airlines to Borneo. And they were all in time to board the Orion II cruise.

But it was not that easy as another problem then occurred. Tom and I would have to spend the night in Hong Kong because we would arrive there after the one Malaysia airline flight had left for Borneo that day. So Maureen immediately grabbed a hotel room for us in Hong Kong, solving that hiccup, and then learning it was the last room available at the Hong Kong airport hotel. What luck!

Still, another problem occurred. We did not have a visa to enter China as we had not planned to go to Hong Kong. After much discussion, it was determined that “in transit” passengers did not need a visa to enter Hong Kong. So we were OK on this problem.

Photo & copyright approval by Dr. Birute Galdikas

But we were not out of the maze yet. The United Airlines gate agent in San Francisco could not help us claim our 2 first class seats because we did not have a boarding pass and she could not provide us one. Maureen and Nancy continued their work on this challenge and soon two United Airlines customer service supervisors arrived at the gate providing boarding passes for us. And then they escorted us onto the plane to our seats at 3H and 3K. What an experience we had just had and we weren’t even there yet. We were scheduled to arrive in Borneo on Aug. 3 and would spend one night in the Hyatt Kota Kinabalu in time to board that Orion II ship. Finally, our emergency re-scheduling had been solved and we were on our way to Borneo.

Photo & Copyright approval by Dr. Birute Galdikas

But it was due to Maureen and Nancy, who took the bull by the horns, to personally solve this unforeseeable and almost impossible problem and to get us successfully and safely to Borneo.

It was a dream come true and we are forever grateful to these two awesome ladies for never giving up until we were re-routed successfully to our dream destination and those orangutans. Going first class on United Airlines was amazing and our first experience was one of adventure, discovery and just plain luxury and enjoyment. Everything we wanted was provided and we thought we were royalty with the outstanding service.

To get us to the orangutans, these two ladies were on the phone working together non-stop to solve the problem for us. Changing an entire itinerary and airline at the last minute was almost impossible and therefore, took time to solve the unbelievable complexities. Beyond Priceless.

Finally, when I told this adventure to Kim, an attendant on our Hong Kong flight, she said “You are so calm and cool about it.” I told her I learned long ago to handle a problem remaining calm because you have to be to handle one and it usually turns out good if you do”.  Kim also was awesome and fulfilled our every need and wish on that first class flight for us. Priceless.

The third time was a charm and an adventure we will never forget because of those orangutans, Maureen Taylor and Nancy, Orion Expedition Cruises and United Airlines. It was a successful impossible dream come true!

United States of America

Foot Work at the San Diego ZOO

Three orangutans with toe sacks over their heads, a bear that used to dance, a jaguar wanting meat, and an elephant having a pedicure were part of a unique animal experience Christina and I had on our behind-the-scenes tour of the 94-year-old San Diego Zoo. Stepping into the lives of this menagerie of animals for a few minutes reminded me of my many African safaris. And visiting one of the top zoos in the world for preservation of species and humane treatment of animals was a thrill.

The purpose of my trip to the 100-acre San Diego Zoo was to see the seven elephants in their new multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art Elephant Odyssey and Care Center. As I came upon the center, I was surprised to see that the custom-built treatment enclosures were in full public view.

In one, a huge, 10-foot-tall African elephant had a foot sticking out of a hole in the enclosure. The elephant’s veterinarian was filing its toenails. Having seen hundreds of elephants in zoos and on African safaris, I had never seen anything like this. How such a huge animal could submit and place a foot out of a hole in the fence was beyond my comprehension, even though I had cared for many cows, bulls, and calves on our dairy farm when I was growing up.

I learned it takes months of training to show the elephants how to do the procedure because the San Diego Zoo uses cooperative training where the animals are never forced.  One thing that kept the elephant cooperative was the keeper sitting next to the veterinarian. This keeper was feeding the elephant 18-inch-long lettuce leaves. As the elephant got its pedicure, it would stick its trunk out of another hole in the 15-foot-tall steel fence to grab a lettuce leaf.  It did this every 10 seconds throughout the pedicure. I just couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.

When I watched veterinarians and keepers shining a flashlight into the eyes and ears of another elephant, I asked what was wrong. One veterinarian replied, “She has an infection.” As we watched, they gave the elephant a shot in the hip to cure the infection.

Our next stop on the Zoo tour was a visit with Tanya, the keeper of the Orangutans. It was so funny because it was raining and two orangutans were sitting on a tree branch with a toe sack over their heads to keep dry. Next to them on another branch was another one with a toe sack over its head. Keeper Tanya told us that 39-year-old Clyde, the adult male of the bunch, was in his bedroom because he did not like getting wet. Also with him were Satu, Inda and Janey, who brushes her hair every morning, loves to paint and has sold several of her paintings. Janey is the only Sumatran orangutan in the Zoo. The rest are all from Borneo.

The highlight of this stop was when keeper Tanya went into the orangutan habitat and fed them a morning treat of grapes and other fruits. Two of them stood up on their back legs ready to receive the grapes thrown to them just like humans stand to catch a ball. Tanya told us the orangutan gang loves air-popped popcorn, nutritional biscuits, leaves, fruits, vegetables, termites, honey, and barbecue sauce.

Tanya explained that the Zoo has a glass wall to separate the public from the orangutans because “they don’t have immune systems like we do so they easily catch human diseases.” The final fact we learned was why the concrete viewing area floor was covered with shredded rubber tires. I thought it would be to keep my feet and legs from hurting after standing for so long enjoying the antics of the orangutans. But no, that was not the reason. It was because the orangutan’s bedroom was right under the viewing area and the rubber “rug” would keep the bedroom quiet while the orangutans rested!

Our next stop was to see a Sloth Bear. Now, I had never heard of a Sloth Bear until the keeper told us it used to be known as the dancing bear that performed in circuses and animal shows. It would “dance” like a ballerina with skirt and all. Ken was the cutest bear, with long fluffy fur and long, long claws just like a sloth has. But the highlight of visiting Ken was when the keeper fed him a bottle of water and honey with a straw. A Sloth Bear’s lips are flap-like, enabling it to suck food and water. Watching Ken form those long lips tightly around the straw made us laugh out loud for several minutes. Even funnier, while he was noisily sucking the water and honey, Ken was sitting on his behind with his legs straight out front. Oh, he was so cute.

Next stop was a visit with Orson, a velvety and beautiful black Jaguar. The entire time we visited Orson, he enjoyed five pounds of ground beef. His keeper explained that Orson weighed around 150 pounds and that a female jaguar is gold with black spots and half Orson’s size. Jaguars come from Central and South America, and have huge feet and a head full of muscles that can bite through a skull.

The Zoo is a breeding ground for many species, and one is the California condor, which has the longest wing span of any bird. Thanks to the Zoo, there are now 400 California Condors in the world. The experts at the San Diego Zoo work with other zoos and animal research centers around the world, helping them with their animal challenges in nutrition, diseases, medical needs, and habitats.

Experiencing the San Diego Zoo on a behind-the-scenes tour gave us the total animal encounter, with surprises all along the way and an education too. Watching the elephant get a pedicure while eating long-leaf lettuce has to rank as one of my most wonderful unexpected sights to behold. If only I could have told that elephant how beautiful it looks with its new pedicure!