[Metroactive Features]

[ Features Index | San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

[whitespace] Parrot
Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes from the Underbelly

Descent Into Happy Hollow

By Eric A. Carlson

"We do emphasize that we don't recommend parrots as pets."

--Heather Walsh, Senior Zookeeper

EVERY SO OFTEN, a feller needs to gird up his loins and muck into the forest, jungle, or tundra to whup ass on Mother Nature. It's a guy thing. Nature and unruly critters need "correcting," and male biped dominance must be established at all costs--or the world goes to hell in a frilly handbasket. With such ruminations, I provisioned for a journey to Happy Hollow Zoo--situated in an unfashionable outback of sprawling San Jose. A base-camp stop at Burger Bar would provide taco nourishment. I set my GPS for 1300 Senter Road, and motored into the wilderness--alone.

I had not taken into account the parrots. As I descended a wooden stairway into the hollow, a shrieking cacophony of Scarlet Macaws and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos sent chills down my spine. I fought off a series of shuddering flight syndrome responses, regrouped, and made my way to the showcase hippo pool. There were no hippos. A sign by the hippoless pool explained that Zula, a pygmy hippopotamus, had traveled to Texas to breed. Heather Walsh, Senior Zookeeper, informed me that a fellow with the enviable title of Studbook Keeper had determined a suitable match for Zula in a Brownsville, Texas, zoo. Seems there is a hippo there named Jiggs with a proven track record of impregnating females of his species--19 and counting. Way to go, Jiggs. Heather told me that Zula would be replaced with four capybaras. The web-footed, semiaquatic capybara is the world's largest rodent. Four rats for a hippopotamus doesn't sound like a good swop to me--go figure.

I was soon at the glen of amazing parrots. Blue, gold, and scarlet Macaws perched regally in branches over a small pond. These parrots are big, make no mistake, and when they speak the silence of the park is rent with squawks of biblical proportion. Though their movements are slow and meticulous, I knew the winged devils were fully capable of lashing out with sharpened beak--to snap off my fingers like so many pink Fritos. I sidled over to the pygmy goats in the petting corral--or Contact Area as the zoo calls it. A sign provided sober warning to the dangers of consorting with pygmy goats: "Although domesticated, pygmy goats still behave naturally. This may include: jumping on you to get food, chewing clothes, cameras, etc., butting you or each other." I maintained a safe distance from these vicious little creatures whose "natural" tendency was to chew my camera and etc. As I left the area, parents were leading terrified children into the pen of hungry goats--who seemed well behaved on this particular day--the goats that is.

A fuzzy brown Sicilian Donkey exuded friendliness; I bonded with the animal as he sought a snack from the palm of my hand. I journeyed on, past pot-bellied pig, slender-tailed meerkat, Fennec fox, jaguar, Parma wallaby, and ring-tailed lemur. It was irritating to hear strangers run up to the lemur display exclaiming, "Look at the monkeys." A lemur is not a monkey by any stretch. The jaguar was quite impressive, albeit sleepy. All the animals reside in well appointed environments--guinea pigs on an island. Happy Hollow is a far cry from earlier years when the animals committed suicide, or looked as if they wanted to.

I spoke with Heather at the end of the day, asking if anyone had ever been eaten alive at Happy Hollow Zoo. "No, though a couple thought they were; we have a goat that does chew on clothes a bit." (I knew I was wise to stay away from that petting corral.) Heather has been Senior Zookeeper since 1995, and is dedicated to an "extensive enrichment program" for the animals. This includes providing new and exotic foods for the critters, new scents (such as cinnamon sprayed on logs), occasional rearranging of décor, and anything else that might change the normal routine. In a word: variety.

Final note: 45 hippos live in North American zoos. And one Studbook Keeper.

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the March 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate