Party Animals Invade African Wilderness

Howler monkeys. It’s one of my favorite memories of working in the Astronomy and Physics department at the Houston Museum of Natural Science during the late 1990’s. We were in the top story of the Museum, in the only department with windows and my desk was next to the sliding glass doors that opened onto the deck perched on the Museum’s roof.  I’d come into work in the mornings, drop my bag, then walk outside to listen to the rollicking serenade of the barrel chested Howlers in the Houston Zoo across Hermann Park.

That’s the beauty of the Houston Museum District. A cache of world-class institutions, all nestled together with easy access. (Great for party planning, as well, incidentally!)

Those of you who attended last night’s party at the Houston Zoo got to explore the new African Forest and see some other parts of the transformation the Zoo has been undergoing these last few years. Populated by a plethora of wonderful animals, such as my adored Howlers, new environments are popping up everywhere. I arrived early to last night’s party to catch some of the exhibits and got a sneak peak at the new elephant enclosure which will include a huge swimming pool.

It’s been a while since I’d been to the Zoo and when I arrived, I made a bee-line for my favorite section: The Reptile House. There are some experiences in life that can take a person back to another age. (Like I said in an earlier post, Skyrocket playing the BeeGees had that effect.) The snakes do it every time: Fascination, terror, curiosity, an urge like vertigo to reach out and trace out the scales with my fingertips – the innocent-looking king cobra, the sleek black mamba, the short and fat Gaboon Viper. I leaned forward and looked in the eyes of each snake and was nine years old again. I had the whole Reptile House to myself and delighted in looking closely at every animal in the collection.

And then there were the baby elephants playing like a pair of puppies! The bigger one lay down in a dirt pile and the baby decided that was his opportunity to sit on his friend’s head. From there, they went rolling around in the dirt together, pushing each other over, sometimes all eight legs in the air, dust flurrying around them in a big brown happy cloud.

Hunger called and I made my way to the party area and promptly found myself amongst friends and good food! Roast oysters on the half shell, two kinds of tamales, a nacho bar, guacamole and roasted salsa… I even talked the servers into letting me have a roasted ear of corn and a roasted poblano half from the garnish. (mmmmm… roasted corn!) There were two kinds of pie for dessert – most of us at our table indulged in the wonderful pecan pie, accompanied by a dollop of Blue Bell Ice Cream (for those of you who aren’t from around here, it is THE best ice cream in the country.)

African dancers worked around the crowd, masked as animals from the African Forest – stilted giraffes, a chimp and rhino. The giraffe dancers were the show-offs of the bunch, repeatedly dancing up and down the stairs leading to the buffet. At least, that’s what my table mates told me – it scared the heck out of me to watch!

Tonight, I’m headed to the HMNS party! I wonder if I’ll be able to hear the Howlers echoing across the trees, waiting for me to answer…

–Cecelia Ottenweller, AAM 2011 Public Relations & Marketing Subcommittee member

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One response to “Party Animals Invade African Wilderness

  1. What a lovely post! Sorry to have missed the zoo during this visit to Houston especially the elephants. Back in the 90’s I worked for the Central Park Conservancy — my home base was the Dairy Visitor Center where we did programs on the history and design of the Park. In any event, one of my early morning joys was to walk along the drive and be serenaded by various animals just waking up in the Central Park Zoo. It was particularly wonderful to hear the creatures on a still cold morning. Thanks for inspiring me to take a nice trip down memory lane.

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