Memorable meerkats

Each time I visit a zoo, there’s an animal that captures my attention, and a little bit of my heart. This time, aside from the big cats, which I always spend most of my time watching, I discovered meerkats.

I knew very little about them. I’d seen commercials for Meerkat Manor, but never watched the show. They were much smaller than I thought they’d be: just under a foot tall, and about 2.2 pounds each. These carnivores communicate via shrill calls and purrs, and keep a sharp lookout for birds of prey.

meerkat eyeballin
I caught this one eyeballing me.

They are part of the mongoose family, and have sharp, little teeth they put to use when hunting rodents. In the wild, they are found in south African plains. It’s always good to run into an animal handler or volunteer while at the zoo, and this time was no exception. The Mama of this particular clan, I was told, could be recognized by the black skin tag hanging  off her chin. I don’t think it detracted from her looks, though.

Mama meerkat other
Mama is on the left. She started the meerkat clan which lives at the Brevard Zoo.

I didn’t see any playful otters at the Brevard Zoo. But the meerkats made up for that.

I think this one was listening for the dinner bell.

Big cats, Florida-style

Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL, has just two types of big cats, but they are well worth seeing. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a cheetah, although I’ve tried. Several zoos I’ve visited lately have advertised this version of spotted cat, but they’ve been busy napping, or hiding, when I stopped by.

My husband and some of our extended family stalked the cheetah enclosure a few times last week, and we were able to withstand the heat and humidity long enough to stay for the cheetah “talk” that afternoon. Like most cats, the big females slept and rested through most of the day, but roused themselves when three of their keepers, armed with big poles just in case, came through the gate for a visit.

cheetah comin
Is it dinnertime, yet?

The three girls made halfhearted attempts at playing with balls tossed around by the staff members, but it was too hot for them to agree to play. They did, however, lay down well in sight of our group, and tolerated much picture taking, to our delight.

We learned that cheetahs can run up to 50 mph, but only in short sprints. In the wild, they gorge themselves so much on prey they have to rest before moving on to digest their meal in a safe place. Wild cheetahs live in Africa, and the females are solitary unless mating or mothering cubs. Since there are no male cheetahs at the Brevard Zoo, these girls will be kept together as long as they tolerate each others’ company.

Earlier in the day, we spied several sleeping jaguars. One wanted to be left alone.

sleepin jaguar(1)
This big cat slept away the afternoon.

The other, we spied napping by a wall, looking very much like it would enjoy a nice scratch under the chin. The enclosure wisely prevented anyone from trying.

jaguar nap
While it looks like a big house cat, this pretty jaguar would not make a good pet.

My (almost) 6 mile hike

I was all excited a few weeks ago when a 6 Mile Hike with a park ranger showed up on my Facebook news feed. Unfortunately, it was in just a few days, on a Sunday morning, and littlest Grandson and I had a church date. I sent my regrets, but noted I would be interested in future hikes, and one was scheduled for this morning. As in early. As in 8 a.m.

But, hey. A hike around the local lake, and an expert most likely willing to talk about flora and fauna and who knows what? I signed up. My daughter did, too, but we’ve both been sick lately. She opted to rest instead.

Despite my diet, I stopped by for a Bojangles biscuit (a 6-mile hike requires fortification), showed up early, and drove through the park to the visitor’s station. I marked time until just before 8, when I decided I’d better see if the lead hiker was waiting around. He wasn’t, and wouldn’t be for a while. I mentally tossed a coin. If I waited, chances were even that he’d decide to cancel anyway, considering I was the only eager hiker there. (Heck, apparently even he wasn’t excited about the prospect today.) I bailed, and on the way home decided to hike on my own. Six miles is a lot of walking for me, so I looked at this like a practice run.

There are a lot of joggers out at 8:30 in the morning. And dogs. A variety of birds, too. My phone camera can’t capture birds well, but I did see beautiful flowers.

This colorful spot calls attention to one of today’s hidden forms of slavery.

Wildflowers were abundant, too. I saw some daisies, and the magnolia trees and the honeysuckle are in bloom.

field of daisies
He loves me, he loves me not. These wild daisies might be too tiny to tell.

I walk a lot at Joyner Park. It’s close to home, and right now, it’s pretty much still in its natural state. That will change, when they add the ballparks and the playground.

There are several trails that loop around the 117-acre property, but the outer one, called the Farm Loop, is 2.2 miles long. I opted for that one. It’s part sunny, part shadow this time of day, and if I made it around twice, I’d probably call it a day.

Birds are abundant in this picturesque park, but I always keep a lookout for critters, too.

turtle turtling (2)
Found this guy near the end of my walk. By this point, I felt like digging a hole to get out of the heat, too.

I made it twice, logging 4.4 miles, with only a few-minutes long break to rest. I might have gone for another round, but 6 miles is a long way to go without anyone to commiserate with about the heat and humidity, and to ask why did I work out so hard at the gym last night when I knew I was hiking this morning.

If the next hike is a go, I’ve got two weeks to prepare. Then I’ll find out if I can hack a 6-mile trek. At least my chicken biscuit wasn’t wasted.

Better than a petting zoo

I was pretty tiny when my grandmother introduced me to my first farm animal. She taught me how to pull up a clump of grass, and hold my hand open, so the cow wouldn’t nip my fingers. I was tickled when that big ole cow’s tongue raked across my little hand, sweeping all that grass into her mouth. I was fascinated.

Later, I thought I would surely live on a farm. The nearest I came was renting an adorable little house that someone had created out of a tobacco barn. I took evening walks around the peanut fields, enjoying the fresh, summer air.

I’ve grown softer with age, though. And I’ve never been an early (read that “up before dawn”) person, nor can I see myself getting up in the dark to milk the cows or feed the horses or whatever it is farm people have to do while the rest of us sleep. But I do love farms. And the animals on the farms.

My oldest daughter and recently I took a long-overdue road trip to see my sister’s family in Virginia. Cassie got to meet her little cousins, 3, and not-quite-1.  We both managed some cuddle time with the little one, and enjoyed getting to know her big sister. When Teresa and C.H. offered to take us to the farm, we didn’t hesitate. Even the drizzle couldn’t keep us away.

Cassie hadn’t been to their farm. I had, and couldn’t wait to see Lily and Gracie again. I made their acquaintance three years ago, and as they were rescue horses, my sister was trying to fatten them up. Gracie was still a baby then, resembling a pony more than a horse. What a difference three years made! Lily is gorgeous, and Gracie is grown, and so beautiful.

Lily and Grace 2013
Lily and Gracie, a few years back.
cassie and horses
Cassie, meet Lily and Gracie! Two gorgeous, glossy horses.

We fed the Boer goats (who couldn’t seem to get enough)!

hungry goat
Hungry goats are impatient goats.

We saw a Dexter calf. I couldn’t figure out which one was Mama, but none of them let us get too close.

Cute, huh!

I enjoyed seeing all the animals, but I think Cassie’s favorite was this little guy:

meeting Dusty
For her first experience with equines, Cassie did alright! She made friends with Dusty, a standard crossback donkey, and took a short ride on Lily.

I may never live on a farm, but I’m glad there’s a farm in the family.