On July 26, 2016 a beautiful little zebra foal was born to Tori and Jake. Keeping with the tradition in the naming process of her older sister and half-brother (Luke and Leia, who made their debuts to the public on….you guessed it, “May the Fourth” in 2014), this babe was named Rey. Coming as she did at the tail end of quite a Baby Boom at the Zoo, Rey’s arrival didn’t make a particularly large splash to most people, but it had a profound effect on me in quite a few ways, some of which are, sadly, not particularly happy ones. I’ll try to keep the “angst” to a bare minimum in this post, but it does make for a compelling story. At least I think it does. I guess you’ll have to decide for yourselves!
The previous Friday, July 22, I had worked a shift at the polar bear table with my friend Glen. I was bemoaning the fact that, because there were so many babies to spend time with (including my little Nandu), I had not spent nearly enough time getting to know Juno, our polar bear cub. (Spoiler alert: she was born in November of 2015.) Her older brother, Humphrey, was born in a bit of a “baby void” so I devoted a great deal of my time to visiting him and forged quite a bond in doing so. On this particular Friday, though, we got to the exhibit rather early so I had some time to interact with Juno before any visitors showed up and I took full advantage of it. Glen shot some footage of our play time; here are a couple of the best clips.
Now, returning to the story of Rey. I was so happy with my play time with Juno that I decided I needed to come and see her again as soon as possible, early in the morning before the Zoo opened to the public. The first time I could do that was Tuesday, July 26. But I woke up super-tired that day and decided I would only go and see Juno and then go straight home again. Now, if you’ve ever been to the Zoo with me and you read that last sentence with a straight face and are not now collapsing into a pile of mirth, then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Of course I didn’t go straight home after seeing Juno. Oh, I really did want to, but the best laid schemes o’ Steve at th’ Zoo “gang aft agley“. As I was leaving Juno and stumbling toward the exit I ran across a Keeper friend who, after we chatted for a moment, asked me if I was staying for the polar bear talk. I sighed and said sure, I’d do that. (Yes, I know. Big hardship. Shaddup!) The talk was at noon, and when it was over I decided I might as well head up to Africa to see the penguin “close encounter” at 1 pm. With time to kill, I ventured down the hill into the Canadian domain to see my lynx girls.
I did manage to get to the close encounter for 1:00.
After that I figured I might just as well walk around the African Savanna, because I was already there anyway. So, even though it felt like the surface of the sun outside that day (really, that could have been any day here last summer), I did exactly that. I dropped in on the lion cubs…
…and eventually reached the cheetahs.
In between, however, I made a very fateful decision – one that I can easily blame on heat and fatigue and lack of a certain piece of information, but nevertheless I doubt I will ever forget a decision I made. I stopped at the first viewing spot for the zebras and noticed one of them standing stock still right in front of me, in glorious profile. I was there alone at that moment, so I raised my camera up and focused on her, but before I snapped any shots I thought to myself, “How many profile shots of a zebra standing still do I really need in my collection?” and I hesitated. It really wasn’t an interesting capture and I really did have many just like it at home; the final straw, however, came when she then parted her rear legs quite a bit and began to pee. “Well, I certainly don’t need a shot of that,” I muttered, and I lowered my camera and began to walk away, passing a couple of visitors as they approached the spot I had vacated. As I walked to the cheetahs I was bothered slightly by the image of that zebra because: a) it seemed like quite a deluge emanating from her nether regions; and 2)* it was a rather dark colour as well. I wondered if I should notify a Keeper of my concerns but somehow either decided not to or simply forgot about it. At the end of this day it was this lack of action on my part that actually bothered me more than anything else that happened and likely is the best indication of how overtired I truly was.
* my use of “a)” followed by “2)” is not a typo; rather, it’s just the way I like to be different. 😉
I continued my path around the Savanna, past the white rhinos
and the giraffes
pausing to have a chat with another Keeper friend I happened to run into along the way. While she and I were chatting, her co-worker received a text message that made her very happy, but I didn’t ask what it was.
When I reached the bridge that leads from the Indo Pavilion back to the Indian Rhino House, I found there were a few of my favourite Outreach Keepers with a spectacled owl and a red-tailed hawk out for a meet-and-greet with the public. It was still stinking hot out, so they had chosen a nice, shady spot and were fully loaded with misting bottles (you can just see one in the bottom left of this photo) to keep the birds cool. I asked if I could hang with them for a bit just to watch the people interact with these gorgeous raptors and they said “absolutely”. So I stuck around for quite a while, snapping off shots and just enjoying the break from the sun – and from walking, to be honest. At some point I received a text message of my own, but it was from a number I didn’t immediately recognize and had not yet associated with any of my contacts. It informed me that there was “exciting news: Tori (the Zebra) had a baby!” I wondered who could possibly think that I didn’t know who “Tori” was, but I eventually figured out that the sender was the friend to whom I had spoken earlier on the Savanna and with whom I had only recently exchanged phone numbers. I wrote back, “Hey that’s awesome! When did she have it?” To which she replied, “Today! That’s the message [her co-worker] got while you were with us!” Tumblers in my brain finally started to click, and….
At that moment I went numb all over. The zebra I had observed “peeing” was Tori. And the heavy flow of dark fluid wasn’t urine, but was her water breaking. Meaning she was in the process of giving birth right there in front of me – and only me – and I did what every great photographer has done since the first camera was invented: I walked away from the scene. I could not believe that had happened. Sheesh, I still can’t believe that happened and it’s been nearly a year!
Heat, yes. Fatigue, absolutely. But the key to my having not understood what was happening was the lack of the information that Tori was pregnant in the first place. The other adult female zebra in the exhibit, Lori-Anne, is rather rotund in general so when I saw Tori early that afternoon her size didn’t cause me any surprise: I just assumed it was Lori-Anne I was looking at. Several people after the fact expressed surprise that I didn’t know she was expecting, but that sort of information is usually closely guarded by the Zoo and no matter how many “insiders” I know, it’s still a lucky happenstance for me to find such things out and I never take it for granted. In any event, to paraphrase Robbie Hart: “That’s information that would have been useful to me yesterday!”
I took it with aplomb of course. In stride. No big deal. Right? Yeah, ok. It took all my inner fortitude not to bundle up all my gear and just toss it off the bridge into the Rouge Valley. I know in the grand scheme of things it’s not a tragedy; however, in my photographic life it’s a pretty horrible thing. As I said, though, the only part that truly upsets me is the fact I didn’t tell anyone of my concerns with respect to the “peeing zebra” and that is not like me at all. If I’ve learned any lesson from this whatsoever it’s simply to never again ignore my own gut instinct as it pertains to any of the animals I love, especially if I think they might be in some kind of distress. And you know, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I happen to again be standing in exactly the right spot to capture a live birth on my own camera.
Sure, sure. And if it does happen again, I’ll probably have a dead battery or something. Sigh.
Next month: a very cute little wooly guy who has a quite unusual name. There’s quite a side story to that birth, too. Don’t miss it!