I was invited by the Zoo for a special behinds-the-scenes tour of the Elephants and the Great Cats. It was great fun, and I may have an "in" if others in Pittsburgh want to do it.
The elephants were amazing. I have not been a big elephant guy for a while, but they made me. Literally. The Matriarch elephant -- largest female, the Alpha -- took to me. She started grabbing at me before they had even gotten to the part about how to touch them, and persisted through our time with them. I left covered in elephant saliva, which would be gross except that how often do you get molested by elephants? Totally worth it.
Lions are far more impressive when you see them up close in a non-presented format... and when you get to see the kinds of toys they play with... and the healthy fear-respect that their keepers give them. You start to consider how fast and sharp little house cats can be, and consider how being twenty times larger than even the biggest of housecats... their reflexes are no slower, their strength not scaled back. Up close they look cute and cuddly, like oversized kitties, unless you watch their eyes. They really do want you to come closer and give them a hug.
Apparently one of the tigers eats about 2-3 mallards a week. Being the cat that likes water, apparently she'll lie in the water like an alligator... and, well... yeah, like an alligator. The zoo puts up with it because they have enough birds, apparently. And there is still apparently active debate in the zoo community about feeding live. I'd like to see it, myself.
The Zoo is great. That was the right way to go back, in light of the last time I was there. At the encouragement of the gal in white in the picture above, I've acquired a ticket to the Zoo's big fundraiser/social event on Friday.