Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Our tiger encounter at the San Diego Zoo

I have accepted that my son has a special connection to the animals at the San Diego Zoo, as have most close friends and family. The names Diego, Issa, Soman, Surat, Blackie, Penelope, Victor, Tikal, Maderas, Mek, Connor, Christopher, and many others are names you would hear on a daily basis in our home. These aren't just animals, they are part of our family. Dylan and I have become friends with a handful of zoo employees that understand his connection and deep love for these animals, but last Saturday we met a new friend.

Julian is a zookeeper who cares for the tigers and other animals along Tiger Trail. Dylan and I have seen him many times, but today was the first day we met him - a day that neither of us will soon forget.

After overhearing Dylan and I talking about the tigers, and the fact that they weren't in photo range, Julian told us he would be switching out the tigers in about 10 minutes if we wanted to wait.

Knowing that Connor and Christopher were in the exhibit, I assumed that he would be bringing Mek out. His response came as a surprise and really caught Dylan off guard.

"Mek was moved to the Fresno Zoo."

I watched as the tears welled up in Dylan's eyes and quietly comforted him while thanking Julian for the information. I told him that Dylan really liked the tigers and had even raised money for Tiger Trail over the summer. Julian told Dylan that Mek was with Paca again so she could have more cubs - he smiled and went on with his work.

Seeing that this was going to take some time, I walked Dylan to an area away from the main path and reminded him of how important it is to keep breeding the tigers. He already knew everything I was telling him, but I was grasping at straws trying to console him. After all the work he did with his birthday wish for the tigers, I knew this was especially hard on him. Mek had become part of our family.

Julian saw us standing off to the side and asked us to wait there a minute. He went behind the big gates and came back a few minutes later. He told us that he just got approval from his lead to take Dylan and I behind the gate - behind the tiger exhibit.

I wish I had a snapshot of Dylan's face when he heard these words. As we walked through the gate Dylan squeezed my hand and whispered, "Mom, this is so awesome!"

Julian gave us a tour of the tiger bedrooms and explained how tigers are cared for at the zoo. We also learned about the many safety precautions zookeepers take when working with the tigers. Connor and Christopher paced back and forth at the gate and said hello to us in their own special way.

While Dylan asked tons of questions, I just stood there taking it all in. Especially Danai, a 19 year old Malayan tiger who I instantly fell in love with. I almost forgot to take pictures.

Now aside from the obvious reasons why this was such a special encounter, it also confirmed my thoughts that zookeepers do in fact sense animal connections in others. Almost like kindred spirits.

Julian didn't know who Dylan was, but he did know that they both shared a special connection with the tigers. He went above and beyond his regular job duties as a San Diego Zoo Zookeeper to help my son through a difficult situation. He repeatedly thanked Dylan for everything he has done to help the tigers, told him to keep up the good work, and encouraged him to keep working toward his goal of being a zookeeper.

Although Dylan met Julian with tears in his eyes, he said goodbye with a smile on his face and a tiger encounter that left an imprint on his heart.

1 comment:

  1. This story is incredible! I'm jealous of you, and although I don't know you or your son, I am so proud of him for working to save the tigers. What a compassionate and passionate young man you're raising. Congratulations!