Life With Ferris: Revisiting The Chattanooga Zoo And Discovering An Exotic Array Of Residents

Monday, May 3, 2021 - by Ferris Robinson

The last time I went to the Chattanooga Zoo, my baby was still in diapers. I remember pushing his little umbrella stroller by some animal cages that seemed to be deserted, then eating sandwiches at an aluminum picnic table in the middle of a parking lot. It was so humid and hot my baby's appliqué had almost slid off his little trouser suit. I was seeking shade like some forest animal.

The next thing I knew, my boys were all grown, and I hadn't given the zoo a second thought. About 10 years ago, when I received a birthday invitation for my little niece Ella Kelley at the Chattanooga Zoo, I packed my large sun hat, a bottle of water and braced myself for a long, hot, uneventful afternoon. Don't expect to actually see any animals, I warned my family.

Ha! I cannot believe no one has called me or texted me or Facebooked me about the Chattanooga Zoo! It is incredible! I know, I know, it's in the news constantly, but this place warrants shaking people by the shoulders and screaming, "The Chattanooga Zoo is right in your back yard and it's awesome!"

Our tour began in the Gombe Forest, and I was immediately awestruck by the chimpanzees. There is something incredibly human about them, and our guide told us they are the closest living relatives to humans. They were paired off, picking through each other's fur like they were braiding hair, all the while looking right at us through the enormous plate glass windows with wise, amber eyes. So close I could have held his hand, one chimp ambled right up to us and looked us over with interest, as if to say, “I love birthday parties, and are the cupcakes chocolate?”

We saw a serval, which is an animal I've never heard of. I thought she was talking about some kind of a serving platter at first. But, the serval is a cross between a cheetah and a lion, except that its head is very small and its legs are very long. Nocturnal, this animal eats rodents whole. If it happens upon a larger animal, like a deer, it avoids organs and intestines, as well as hooves and fur. When dining on birds, the serval plucks it by tossing it in the air and thrashing its head back and forth and spitting out the feathers. I would have paid extra to witness this animal dining.

Throughout the tour, we were up-close and personal with the animals. We saw every single one! There was no, “Oh, he's over behind that brush pile, I think” or waiting patiently for a glimpse. We were right there with them! Halfway through the tour, I realized I didn't even need my sun hat as I sat under a large shade tree by a little fish-filled pond.

I was head-to-head with a jaguar, anxiously pacing in circles (the animal, not me), and our guide explained the difference in the markings between the jaguar and the tiger. The spider monkeys were interesting, but I was riveted by the tamarins, (another animal I'd never heard of), the smallest of the primates. With a head full of platinum, punk rocker hair, this little creature was riveted by us as well. Our guide asked for our trinkets, and she held a baby toy up to the glass. In an instant the tamarin was peering at the brightly colored toy, and reaching for it. Tamarin babies had just been born, and these mini-me's imitated their tiny parents. Exquisite!

At four feet long and 160 pounds, the capybaras (yet another animal totally unknown) is the largest rodent in the world. I'm not kidding about this. I wonder if the serval knows the capybaras is right in the neighborhood.

Cobras and pythons and poisonous frogs, oh my! I didn't linger in this area, partly because I was already on sensory overload with all the exotic animals I was eye-to-eye with, and partly because I am scared of reptiles. But, mainly because it was time for cupcakes and ice cream with Ella.

A new grandmother, I look so forward to regularly spending afternoons with my granddaughter at this magical place, which now has giraffes!

I am sorry the Chattanooga Zoo wasn't finished when my boys were young. Not only would we have had some delightful afternoons, but they would have known a serval is not a waitress tray, and a capybaras is not some kind of a hat. 

* * *

* * *

Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series. “Making Arrangements” is her first novel, and the ebook is on promotion until April 7. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.


Chattanooga Desert Shield-Desert Storm 30-Year Anniversary Reunion Planned

TN National Guard 230th Sustainment Brigade Hosting Change Of Command Ceremony May 15

PHOTOS: Armed Forces Day Parade


Ten years before the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States began wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Operation Desert Storm took place to protect America’s and its ... (click for more)

The Tennessee National Guard's 230th Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Chattanooga, will conduct a change of command ceremony near the Volunteer Training Site in Smyrna on Saturday, May 15, ... (click for more)



Happenings

Chattanooga Desert Shield-Desert Storm 30-Year Anniversary Reunion Planned

Ten years before the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States began wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Operation Desert Storm took place to protect America’s and its allies' interests after Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in 1990. To remember the 30th anniversary of that time for local military personnel and veterans who served, a special reunion with ... (click for more)

TN National Guard 230th Sustainment Brigade Hosting Change Of Command Ceremony May 15

The Tennessee National Guard's 230th Sustainment Brigade, headquartered in Chattanooga, will conduct a change of command ceremony near the Volunteer Training Site in Smyrna on Saturday, May 15, at 1 p.m. Col. John Gobel, the current 230th commander who resides in Nashville, will relinquish command to Col. Christopher Patterson who resides in Ooltewah. Col. Gobel served ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Roadtec, Inc. To Expand Chattanooga Operations With $6.2 Million Investment

Roadtec, Inc. officials announced on Wednesday that the paving equipment manufacturer will expand its operations in Chattanooga. Roadtec will invest $6.2 million to make building and site improvements and relocate its Washington operations to its headquarters in Tennessee. The project represents the creation of 128 new jobs in Hamilton County. Roadtec, a subsidiary of ... (click for more)

County Commissioners Anxious To Expand Number Of Officers At Hamilton County Schools

County Commission members said Tuesday they are anxious to expand the number of officers at county school campuses - even if it means using a number of security guards in addition to School Resource Officers. They said they are concerned that a tragic incident will occur on a local campus with no officer present - either from not being assigned one or from the SRO being called ... (click for more)

Opinion

Please Stop Calling Us “Latinx”

We’re asking nicely, because we think the use of the term has been mostly well-intentioned. But let’s start with some numbers: a mere 3 percent of Americans of Latin-American descent use “Latinx” to describe themselves. This is based on a 2020 Pew Research poll of about 3,000 American Latinos. Those who want for “Latinx” to become the default say it’s preferable because it’s ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Earn Life's "Free Lunches"

The worst debacle in our nation’s history, it is beginning to be proven, was when the United States was quarantined during the COVID-19 epidemic. Our economy – from employment to production – was stymied. Our next generation responded with virtually no education for an entire year and a surging teen suicide epidemic and the biggest profits that were made in the second half of 2020 ... (click for more)