How Often Do You Get to Pet a Rhino?

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By Rosanna Ward

Last Thursday evening was our first official school field trip for this year. The Tulsa Zoo was having its Member Appreciation Evening, so after Homeschool P.E., we picked up some dinner food and drove out to the zoo’s park early. We had a picnic and played at the park until it was time to enter the zoo.

It was a beautiful evening, and the kids were excited to be there. We started off the evening by riding the free carousel — all rides were free this evening. Then the kids went to the gem dig and dug in the dirt for pretty rocks.

After this we went to the chimpanzee exhibit, where a keeper was showing off the chimpanzees and answering questions. The building was crammed with people, so we went to an outside table where a volunteer was answering questions. She also handed out “stamp cards” and told the kids that if they went to all of the places on these cards and received a stamp on each one, then turned it in at the front desk, they would receive a cool prize.

Well, that changed the direction of the whole night. As we walked along looking for the “stamp” events, we ran into some really fun animals. For example, we met Maggie the Porcupine and talked to her zookeeper about porcupines. Their quills look soft, but the zookeeper assured us that they really hurt, and explained that natives used to use their quills as needles to make jewelry with. Maggie likes to play and was very fun to watch. Then we met Clyde the Goat and talked to his keeper. The baby red piglets were also very cute, and we got to pet both the goat and the piglets.

Leif talking to the “elephant”

There were also other “animals” walking the grounds: Volunteers dressed up as a flamingo, parrot, penguin and elephant visited with us. Leif and Cadence loved meeting these “animals.” Cadence would hug their legs, while Leif — in my arms — would pet them and talk to them in his baby language.

Our first major stop was the zoo’s veterinary hospital. This facility is rarely open to the public, so it was a tour I didn’t want our kids to miss out on. The wait was quite long, and the kids were worried about running out of time to get all their stamps. But the vet hospital tour turned out to be great, and the zoo veterinarian gave us a lot of great information about zoo animal health and how they take care of them. They always anesthetize the animals — as evidenced by the fact that the zoo vet is still alive and unscathed (she said). They do everything from root canals to blood work. Every animal has a medical file except the tanks of fish, which have a file per tank. The only animals that don’t come to the hospital are the elephants and the rhinos. For those animals, the vet makes house calls.

Rachael and Joel petting a rhino

After the vet hospital, the rest of our evening was taken up with racing around trying to get our stamp cards filled. At one point the older girls went ahead of us to get stamps.

While they were gone, we stopped at the rhinoceros exhibit. We were drawn to it because the keepers had them up by the fence and were letting kids come up to the fence and pet them! Joel and Rachael got in line to pet the rhino (I think they must have cut in line because it was really quite long). I didn’t make a fuss because I thought, when were they going to get this chance again? How often do you get the opportunity to pet a rhino anyway? I went around to the side to take pictures and snuck in a little petting myself. In some places, its skin was hard, and in others, it was wrinkly and felt like rough leather. The keeper told the kids that their horns are made out of hair (I think it’s like same stuff that our hair and nails are made out of). Petting the rhino was a really cool experience!

It was getting late, so we told the kids that the prize at the end of the stamping journey was probably a cheezy toy (like a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy) and that if we finished getting all the stamps, we wouldn’t have enough time to ride the train. However, they still chose to finish stamp collecting. So we raced to the last two stamp stops, then headed out with the crowd as it was closing time. When we got to the exit, the older two girls got in line at Member Service and proudly handed in their completely stamped cards. The prize for all of this work? A chimp card  — like a baseball card, but with chimp facts! Some prize: They had been handing out these cards free all night.

All seven kids were upset — especially Joel, who had given up a precious train ride. He had a total meltdown, helped along by the fact that he was extremely tired. He yelled at me that the prize stunk! I told him I would email the zoo and express his displeasure, and he kept asking me to email them right now. So an otherwise beautiful night ended with a long drive home with a crying child — and anyone with kids knows how frustrating this was.

I did email the zoo and told them about our experience, basically explaining that if they were going to give such a pathetic prize, they shouldn’t do it at all. However, we will still go back to the zoo soon, because: 1) we now have a membership, so we will try to go often, and 2) we missed seeing a lot of animals that we wanted to see, like the new giraffes and their new exhibit. Hopefully next time there will be less drama!

— Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of almost 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are currently homeschooled. Her oldest daughter has graduated, and her youngest son is a toddler. She is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for six years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy, and currently resides in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.