John Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Confused: Zoo’s keepers or giraffes?

“Are you sure?” one of my favorite granddaughters asked the Audubon Zoo Camp’s head counselor last week.

It was the second time she had asked, this time with emphasis.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The question was prompted by the counselor’s statement that the New Orleans zoo had housed only male giraffes for at least two years.

Lauren thought that she knew better. Last November during a visit to the zoo with Rosemary and me and her Aunt Mary, we had found the giraffes in an amorous mood. A large male giraffe was intensely interested in the smaller giraffe it followed all around their grounds, persistently rearing up and mounting.

The activity came much to the delight of that day’s visitors to the zoo. Think about it. NASCAR fans all watch cars go round and round and round secretly hoping they’ll get to see some spectacular, multi-car pileup. Zoo visitors are less demanding in their expectations, but if during their visits the monkeys start monkeying around, the trip is humorously enhanced.

And giraffes, beautiful and graceful creatures though they be, are comically gangly in their couplings. Their activities had adult zoo visitors giggling, rolling their eyes and taking photographs. Teenage visitors looked chagrined at having to confront the spectacle in the presence of their parents. Young kids looked more puzzled at the sudden strange behavior of their elders than anything that was going on among the other animals.

That highlight of another great day at the zoo was duly recorded in a grainy digital image made with my cell phone camera, the only piece of photographic equipment then in hand.

Nor was the scene on that day last November lost on Lauren. When she arrived for a week of day camp at the zoo, she wondered aloud to her grandmother: “Do you think there will be any baby giraffes?”

The Audubon Zoo has in the past capitalized on procreation among its creatures, featuring them in “Zoo Babies” exhibits which have always been Lauren’s favorites.

The zoo camp counselor’s statement about the institution’s males-only giraffe collection was met by her “are you sure” questions. The counselor assured her that yes, she was sure.

When Lauren, still unsure if the counselor knew what she was talking about, relayed that information to us after Monday’s session, I recalled that the image was probably still in that phone. I gave the phone to Lauren who not only quickly found the photo but also determined that date and hour it had been recorded. We then forwarded it to my computer and printed the image on paper.

Though the grainy image could not prove that a giraffical mating act had been consummated, it definitely proved that somebody — either the giraffes or the zoo keepers — was confused.

For the next several days we relished the thought of sending the photo back to zoo camp with Lauren so that she could confront the counselor who had been so confident. Let her tell us who was confused.

But we didn’t.

During the years that we were raising our own children, there were times when we put them up to such antics, confronting authority figures like teachers or coaches or camp counselors. Usually the kids went along with it and whomever the authority figures were probably just thought we were weird.

But we just didn’t think we should take the same liberty with a grandchild.