Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – June Story

Samson asking for a treat

First of all, let me apologize most profusely for the lateness of this post. The tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo at the very end of May knocked me for a bit of a loop and – perhaps even more importantly – the backstory of this month's photo seemed woefully inappropriate to share on the heels of that incident. Within a few days, the month just kind of got away from me as the Education Department at the Zoo has become more and more busy with the end of school looming. Maybe I'll learn from this and have the rest of the year's posts "in the can" long before the first of each month.

Ha ha ha!! Yeah, I just read that out loud. So...probably not. But I do hope to have them ready for the turning of the next six pages, at least!

So, this is Samson. I had suspected it was all along, but I wasn't 100% sure and I only managed to check with his #1 fan – keeper Alison – after the calendar first went to press, so I left his name off of the June page. (I managed to add it for later editions, though.) I took this photo in 2014 – ironically enough on May 31, or precisely two years to the day before I should have had this post uploaded – and at that time I didn't know one hippo from another, so I never tagged this picture appropriately. In the meantime, I've learned several ways to tell the three siblings apart; in the case of Samson, the easiest way is to know that he always goes on exhibit alone.

Perky (2nd) and Petal
Samson's two sisters, on the other hand – Petal and Perky – are ordinarily found together in the exhibit. I am fairly certain that Perky is the one with the tooth sticking out; however, for some reason I cannot seem to commit that 100% to memory. If I find out otherwise, I will edit this post. Perky recently turned 25 years old while Petal will turn 30 in July. All three are magnificent creatures, but Samson (who will be 43 also in July) is on a whole other level, Sarah and I were extremely fortunate to have a visit with him (and his sisters) a few months ago, and he is absolutely huge. Spectacularly huge. Overwhelmingly huge. The thing is, the Zoo's elephants (when they were in Toronto) and giraffes and rhinos and other enormous beasts have all been viewable at one time or another from a position of relative equality with respect to ground level. That is to say: Zoo guests have been able to stand at the same level as these animals, allowing us to gain an appreciation for their bulk. The river hippos, on the other hand, have always been in an exhibit that is situated below the ground that visitors stand on, diminishing the effect of their massive size. So when Sarah and I encountered Samson for the first time from a "level playing field" it was positively exhilarating. When he opened his enormous mouth to ask for a treat I found myself looking up at his lower jaw. It absolutely took my breath away to finally understand just how incredibly mammoth these animals are, And now I believe I can better appreciate just how it is that hippos have become the most dangerous animal (to humans) on the African savanna.

An "Itzakadoozie" frozen treat
On the day I took this month's photo, Samson had recently had his scheduled public feeding. The keeper (no recollection of whom) had moved on to other duties and the great beast was idly floating around in his pond, probably searching for morsels of yummy treats that had previously escaped his giant jaws. As I watched him leisurely move about in the water, I happened to notice a little girl of perhaps three years old in her father's arms near the corner of the pond. He wasn't holding her over the water in any way, nor was she perched on the rocks; nonetheless, the "Itzakadoozie" she was clutching in her wee hands was clearly visible from the pond itself. Ultimately, the bright colours attracted the attention of Samson – at least, that's what I presume happened – and he slowly manoeuvered himself into a position just below the girl and her dad.

And then he opened his massive mouth.

Hippo in Belgrade enjoying a watermelon
He didn't open it enough for it to be a sign of aggression, in my opinion. In fact, Samson did not open it any wider than what you can see in the calendar photo. Judging from the photo at left (not mine) it seems to me that he was looking for another treat. Perhaps he mistook the popsicle-like goody for a carrot. Or a squash. Or a watermelon; I don't believe hippos are particularly known for outstanding eyesight. Whatever he thought he might be about to receive, he sure looked eager to accept it. And as impressive as the image was from my angle, I can't even begin to imagine how it must have looked from the vantage point of daughter and dad. But I know one thing: I'd sure loved to have been in their shoes at that moment. Maybe somewhere down the road. Come to think of it, I imagine the best thing for me to do would be to get to a future Keeper Talk early, position myself behind where the feeding would be taking place, and shoot a few frames over her shoulder. Watch for the results in a future calendar – or, at the very least, a Facebook and Instagram post.

In the meantime, Sarah has fashioned a stencil in the shape of a hippo in order that Alison can have Samson create a masterpiece using....wait for it....flying poo. Yes, that's correct. So watch for that at a future fundraising event. I'm assuming you'll be able to bid on it only in increments of the Number Two. Bahahahahaha....I'll show myself out.

Next month: the story behind what is quite possibly the most visually striking shot of all thirteen (including the cover) in this year's calendar. Hmm. Perhaps I should start that one the moment I post this one.

Yeah. Like that will happen.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – May Story

Scout (L) and Lafawnduh

Penguins!! This month's featured animals are a pair of young African penguins who are part of the colony of 23 currently residing at the Toronto Zoo. And why does that make me excited enough to put the first word in bold and italics with two (2) exclamation points, you may ask? Well, it's because....ha ha ha, oh come on. Is there really anyone reading this who is legitimately asking that question? "The Grumpy Penguin", "Wandering Penguin", "pengo_steve...", penguin costume, penguin collectibles, Mario Lemieux sweater....the list goes on and on. Penguins have long lived atop my list of favourite animals – although these days they are certainly being pushed hard for that honour, if they've not actually been caught. But I don't expect they will ever finish out of the running, not after this many years.

Biff! Squish those sno-bees!
I can't be 100% sure when my affinity for penguins actually began, but I have an excellent idea of when it took a firm hold in the consciousnesses of all of my friends and family. In 1982 Sega released an arcade game called "Pengo" where the player controls a little red penguin with a joystick and single button. The object of the game is to run around a maze of ice blocks, avoiding and squishing (with those blocks) the evil "sno-bees", while also trying to line up the three blocks marked with diamonds before the round ends. (An incomplete screen shot is shown at left.) In 1983-84, after a crushing relationship failure, I spent very likely weeks of my life at the Innis College pub at U of T, playing a tabletop version of this game either solo or with various friends, the most common being Brett MacMillan and Steve Palmer. I developed a tendency to exclaim "biff!" when I squished one of the nasty little blobs between ice blocks; to my horror, Brett decided that "Biff" should become my nickname. Even before the Back to the Future series had begun, I knew I was not going to be happy with this moniker unless we "dressed it up" a little. Between the two of us, we worked out that it needed to be spelled with only one "f"...but also a silent "3" for some reason which I am certain was the Funniest. Thing. Ever. ™ at the time of its creation. But even that wasn't "special" enough. No, we decided to make the "3" a superscript. And capitalize the "F". Thus, my nickname for the remainder of my 20s and a good chunk of my 30s was "Bi³F". This appeared in salutations, on invitations, on the backs of hockey sweaters, on a set of personalized licence plates, and even engraved on my bowling ball, complete with superscript. Yes, folks, we were that nerdy. Yes, I said "were". Ok, shut up. Now you're all just being mean.

If you see this bird, do not approach it!
In any event, the die was cast. From then on – continuing even through the present time – whenever anyone was looking for a gift for me and didn't know exactly what to get, they defaulted to something with a penguin on it. Over time I collected and received enough knick-knacks to fill a small room, with the majority of them being stuffed penguins of one kind or another. Obviously this has been just fine with me – I mean, I named my business after the animal – and as far as I am concerned it can go on forever. But from time-to-time (especially just before our move in 2014) I have had to jettison a large quantity of the items before they take over our lives completely. I have often wondered what goes through the mind of Value Village workers when they open up several blue recycling bags filled to overflowing with penguin stuffies. But even after several purges of various degrees of ruthlessness, I still have many lovely and meaningful penguins in my possession. And I'm ok with that.

But enough of my own personal back story. This post was supposed to be about the penguins at the Toronto Zoo. 

Right? Best shop name ever.
I was thrilled to see the return of the penguins to the Zoo in 2011. I don't recall for sure if Sarah and I went to see them on opening weekend, but it was absolutely within the first week they were on exhibit. Sometimes called "jackass penguins" because of their braying call (although it's certainly not unique to their species), African penguins are exactly in the middle of the size range of the 17 different species of penguin. They don't live in Antarctica, so they are never outside at the Zoo in the winter, much to the surprise of a healthy percentage of our visitors. In point of fact, they sometimes have to stay indoors through part of the summer as well, because they need a very temperate clime to survive – which I hope they do for a long time; however, their future is, sadly, quite grim at the moment due to overfishing (among other issues). The penguins at the Zoo are thriving right now, though, having increased their numbers from an original 12 to the current 23 (at last count). And even though it long ago closed up and moved away from their exhibit, the shop that opened up upon their arrival had quite likely the greatest shop name I have ever seen. 

Scooby (Doo), the clear favourite of at least one keeper
For those of you who received my 2016 Calendar from the first printing, I apologize: I did not print the names of the penguins in the May photo because I simply did not know which ones they were at the time it went to press. I have since found out (Scout and Lafawnduh, as I labeled at the top of this piece) and have also established the identity of the animal in a later photo, which I will divulge when the time comes. (I'll give you a hint: it's next month.) I showed the photo to one of the penguin keepers and they instantly were able to tell me who was who, because each of our penguins wears a different colour (and style) band on one flipper. This is especially essential at feeding time, which I was fortunate enough to help out with back in December while I was a "Keeper for a Day", something I had purchased through a silent auction on Vulture Awareness Day earlier in 2015. I held the clipboard and recorded each fish that each penguin received during the feedings (which I took part in twice!) and was thrilled to be able to interact with a couple of the more inquisitive birds, especially Wolfgang. The penguin in this photo is Scooby, who is a bit of a miracle bird because he probably shouldn't have survived into adulthood. He is noticeably thinner than the rest and because of his....wait for it...."pluck".... (yeah, sorry)... he is the particular favourite of keeper Kim. He is kind of adorable, for sure, but my own favourite will likely always be Eldon, who was the first one born at the Zoo a couple of years ago, and had no siblings (but had to watch the twins Chupa and Matata cavort in the pen right next door) so I took every opportunity to drop by the nursery and play with him through the glass (finger wiggling, light flashing, shadows, that sort of thing). And even though I say "him", it turned out much later that Eldon is a girl, but only after "he" laid an unexpected egg!

Ashley and Squeak. (Squeak is the penguin!)
Two years ago, I was thrilled to discover the Zoo was trying something new. Every day during the summer there is a penguin talk and feeding at 12:30. In 2014, this was followed daily (weather permitting) by a close encounter with one of the juveniles, which two of the keepers would carry out to a fenced-off area near the entrance to the exhibit, put down on the grass, and let run around for a bit while they answered questions or just interacted with the cute little creatures. This has been one of the highlights of my time at the Zoo and I made sure I dropped by the 1:00 "meet and greet" every chance I had. I am pretty sure I ended up with photos of every penguin in this program except for one, as I showed up a couple of dozen times at the very least. Last year they suspended the idea for the summer due to the concern over the avian flu, which invaded Ontario in the spring and caused myriad concerns for the Zoo. Every outdoor bird was late to appear on exhibit if they appeared at all; the peacocks who roam the grounds – a long-time staple of summers at the Toronto Zoo – never came out of their holding at any time. I knew I missed them (although the chipmunks, free of competition, certainly thrived) but had really no idea how much until I heard one of them call out for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It's not just the sight of them that really means summer at the Zoo, but the sound. In any event, I take the return of the peacocks as a very good sign. Perhaps we'll again have the chance to get up close and personal with my favourite little waddlers this summer. 

Next month: another "missing" name revealed, along with a really cool backstory to the photo. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this video which proves, once and for all, that penguins really can fly. Just not in the air.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Even "Good" Weather Can Be Toxic to the Depressed

I'm struggling today.

To be perfectly truthful I've been struggling a lot, off and on this winter and early spring. I have heard from a lot of friends in similar situations who have also struggled this winter. I am certain this has a great deal to do with the weather; at least, it does if you live in our area of North America. I know a lot of people out there likely can't comprehend how the mildest winter (in Toronto) in many, many years could possibly have a negative effect on anyone. Let me try to explain it, at least as I feel it.

My depression keeps me in a more or less constant state of struggling to find peace and balance; meaningfulness in my daily activities; order and structure and consistency among the chaos. It's difficult enough to find these things in situations where I have at least some semblance of control; when things are absolutely beyond my control – such as the weather – I have to rely on expected patterns to emerge and remain relatively constant. As I get stronger (it's not yet been two years since I sought help) the bumps and hiccoughs in life become ever smoother, in part because these, too, eventually form a pattern of recurrence that I can refer to when I am feeling anxious. But no matter how strong I eventually do get, my life's story has made me keenly aware that the best I can do is keep my depression in "remission" for as long as possible and that it's vitally important to stay on top of any dips that last just a bit too long.

How this is impacted by the weather (for me, at least) is actually quite simple. Even in Toronto, where locals know the lines between seasons are anything but crisp and well-defined, a winter like we've just had is exceptionally unusual. I've read that the El Niño effect this year was the strongest ever recorded. It might be easy for many people to look at the mild temperatures we had and be thankful we didn't get down to the extended record lows of just one year ago. But my depression won't let me take that attitude. I can't see the long periods of warmth as a blessing of any kind; rather, I have spent huge chunks of the past winter waiting for the other shoe to drop. Winter never really hit – not in any meaningful, Canadian way – and that made it impossible for me to get on any kind of a mental schedule. On top of that, every time we had a prolonged period of spring-like weather, it was inevitably followed by a drop in temperature and a series of dismal days that, had they occurred in a natural pattern, would have been tolerable. But they didn't...and they weren't. It felt like the whole winter was one long February. It felt like I was on a leash and every time I was able to see some progress being made, something yanked on the other end of it and pulled me back toward darkness. You see, when you're depressed a succession of good days is not what you notice, but rather a series of what feel like crushing blows. And this winter, for all its good days for many people, had a very long series of crushing blows.

Today in Toronto we woke up to a big dumping of snow overnight. And it's April the 4th. Do we often get one last dumping in Toronto in April? Yes, we do. But then it ordinarily follows a winter of normal weather patterns. If we're not going to have snow for Christmas; if I can have my shorts on in my home (with the heater off) for much of February and March; if we can hear red-winged blackbirds before St. Patrick's Day; well, then a snowfall in April is just a slap in the face. No thank you, Mother Nature. Bring winter on time, or just skip it altogether. Ain't nobody got time for that, indeed.

I did manage to keep my streak alive by going out first thing this morning and driving Sarah to the subway, which was a good idea since I've had zero interest in going back out into the world since I got back home. At least that very small pressure was removed.

My Nature Bright 10,000-lux lamp
Many of you reading this post have known me long enough to realize that complaining about winter weather is very unusual for me. I love snow. I prefer cold days to hot. Last February when Toronto broke records for consecutive days of frigid temperatures, I was in my glory because it was sunny, sunny, sunny all the time. It was just about the easiest February I have ever had. I far prefer weather I can anticipate, but especially if it comes with brilliant sunshine. I have a light therapy lamp which I make use of regularly and it is a huge help with my Seasonal Affective Disorder. I am supposed to use it for 30 minutes every day; I realized back in January that I hadn't been doing so and I really noticed a difference once I got back on track. If you are in the same situation as me, I can't recommend highly enough that you go out and get one of these lamps for yourself. If you click on the photo on the right, it will take you to the page for this item.

It's not all been about the weather for me, of course. There have been a trilogy of court cases in the past couple of months that have come to very disappointing conclusions. There is the ongoing debacle of the GOP race in the States, impossible to escape even in Canada. There was the sudden re-insertion of the Ford family in the daily news cycle. There was the struggle to find an accommodation with the Zoo that would allow me to Volunteer through the winter months. There has been an ongoing trial with an amphetamine to see if it will help combat my lifelong ADHD. All of these have been, of course, major factors in the tough slogging I've found this year so far. But the weather yo-yo has been far and away the biggest culprit, borne out by the fact that so many others I know are finding this to be a very difficult year and virtually all of them have faced none of the other things I mentioned in this paragraph.


Even after having written all of that – which I hope helped to shed some sort of light on my own situation – I want to make this clear: this post, cathartic as it may be, was not created for me. I hope those of you who are struggling right now and have been following my own amazing progress with my depression and anxiety will read this and understand that it's not a perfect recovery. That there are going to be struggles that will make you wonder if you're slipping back into despair.

You're not.

If you are feeling out of sorts right now and you have no real mitigating factor you can pin it on – illness, family woes, job loss, etc. – don't assume the worst. Consider outside factors that might not be on your radar, Think about when you had your worst days this year and see if you can remember (or look up) what the weather was doing those days.

It's been easy for me to post about all of my obvious successes over the past 24 months. Those are fun to read about and even more fun to write about. But I also consider today a "success", ironically. I am struggling. Scuffling hard. And I have felt more than once like going to bed, pulling the covers over my head, and sleeping this day away. I've felt like pouring myself a tumbler full of whisky and getting lost in it. I've felt like throwing up my hands and allowing the hopelessness and despair to wash over me. But I've battled through it, because I am very much aware that that is precisely what depression wants you to do. It is a liar and a bastard. And it's a tenacious opponent. And struggling is still one hell of a lot better than not struggling, which I have spent several years doing. Or not doing, I suppose. If you're feeling the same way: keep at it. Remember to breathe, Find some light and sit in it. Read more posts like this one. Write a post like this one, even if you show it to nobody. And if you can't do any of those things, please remember this:

It's not your fault.

Friday, April 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – April Story

Jupiter (L) and Venus during an enrichment session

Dora. Or maybe Vera. Hmm. 
One of the biomes at the Toronto Zoo is the "Tundra". The path through it – known as the "Tundra Trek" – is probably about a kilometre or so long as it meanders past animals of the far north of our country and offers insights into the lodgings and medicines and overall lifestyles of the hardy aboriginals (the Inuit) who co-inhabit this harsh habitat with those animals; It's quite a nice little stroll even now, but it has recently become sadly quite lacking in quantity (if not quality) of the animals on display. As you begin the "Trek" counter-clockwise from next to the Tundra zip line ride, you first encounter the domain of the Arctic wolves. For the better part of 15 years this area was populated by a rather large pack; as age took its toll they began to die off until there was one solitary male left named Loki. At that time, Loki was "retired" down to the Canadian Domain and we brought up a young triumverate of Chinook (male) and Dora and Vera (females who, I believe, are sisters) in the hopes that they will breed and begin their own large pack. For now there are just the three, but they are quite spry and lively and really very beautiful.

Juno showing a stick what's what
At the next stop on your tour you will find what is easily the signature animal of the tundra: the polar bear. At the moment the huge enclosure houses four bears: Aurora and Nikita, twin sisters who came to the Zoo as orphans 15 years ago; Inukshuk, who also arrived as an orphan but two years after the girls; and Juno, the newest creation of the Inukshuk-Aurora pairing, who was born on November 11 of last year (hence her name). Juno has two full brothers – Hudson and Humphrey – who are now living it up in a gorgeous exhibit called "The Journey to Churchill" at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Juno is the first female polar bear cub at the Toronto Zoo since her mom and aunt arrived in early 2001. She is every bit as full of life as her two older siblings and, after a slow start, has nearly caught up to them in size and agility. She's pretty adorable, all in all.

But from there the pickings become rather slim.We have one snowy owl who has been on his own for quite some time now. There is one caribou left from the herd that was formerly split up to populate both the Tundra and Eurasia walkthroughs. There is nothing where the snow geese used to be and the geese themselves have been moved to a location farther along the trail. They now inhabit the last exhibit before you reach the end. The exhibit that used to display the Arctic foxes. Because we have none left, at the moment. And that makes me quite sad.

When I first started at the Zoo there were two Arctic foxes, one male and one female. The male (pictured here) was Cody; I don't recall the female's name but she wasn't around for long after I came on board. Some time in late 2013, we acquired two very young females to be companions for Cody, but he had already begun a steep decline himself and passed away that winter. The girls – Jupiter and Venus – occupied the exhibit together for a while after that, but you might notice something a bit "off" about the photo at the top of this page. I took that shot in late July of 2014 when both girls should have been the cookie-brown that Jupiter is displaying; for some reason, Venus never molted to the point where she fully changed colour that spring. Arctic foxes are not at the top of their food chain, so they need to rely somewhat on camouflage for protection against predators. In the winter they are the whitest white you will ever see, matching the snow-covered environment around them. When the snow melts in the brief Arctic summer, the foxes change to a brown-and-white combination (heavy on the brown) to blend in with the sedge and shrub coverage of the landscape. Wolves don't need to use this trick, so they just shed their thick winter coat but remain white all year round. So by the thickest heat of a Toronto summer, both Venus and Jupiter should have had very little white fur remaining. The fact that Venus still had most of hers was cause for concern. However, it makes for a pretty incredible (and rare) photo: two Arctic foxes, side-by-side, coloured completely differently from each other. That's the main reason I chose this photo for the 2016 calendar, even though neither girl is still with us. Something is amiss in that exhibit, it seems, and I can't get a clear answer as to what that is. It's possible it hasn't even been figured out yet. One thing seems certain, though: it's doubtful we'll see any more of this adorable species on our Tundra Trek until we can be sure they'll not suffer the same fate as the last three (at least).

The day I captured the image of Jupiter and Venus and that red ball was during "Zookeeper Week" and the foxes were receiving a special enrichment session that particular day. The ball was full of crickets! There were also several of the chirping bugs scattered about the tall grass of the exhibit and I managed to take some other really cute photos of the girls. Here is the "Bonus Material" for April. I hope you enjoy it!!

S-T-R-E-E-E-E-T-C-H!! Venus is awake!

Jupiter does a target session

Venus hears a cricket....

....and POUNCES!!

Listening for more snacks

Venus attentively watching her keeper leave

I hope that, in the near future, the Tundra Trek becomes a fulfilling and worthwhile walk again. When it was full of life – wolves, bears, owls, caribous, geese, foxes – it was just about my favourite place to hang out in the whole Zoo. In the meantime, I am exceedingly grateful I happened to be there with friends on the day these two gorgeous creatures got some special treats. I will always treasure these photos. 

Tune in again next month for some Fun with Flightless Feathered Friends! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – March Story

Er Shun in her "Mona Lisa" pose

Last month I posted some "bonus material" of the white lion cubs that were born last fall. This set off quite a "Baby Boom" at the Toronto Zoo and the next to appear were two tiny but adorable giant panda cubs, born in the early morning hours of October 13, 2015, to the beautiful 8-year-old Er Shun, this month's "featured animal", It's especially good timing that I chose March as her month because those same bundles of cute – the first ever born in Canada – will make their official public debut on March 12th. Of course, by then they will already have been viewed in their exhibit by Zoo staff, volunteers, members, friends of members, and anyone watching one of presumably several dinner-hour newscasts on March 7th, the day the media and "VIPs" get to see them. This is known in the biz as a "soft open" (and all of those other viewings will take place in March as well). But "officially"? March 12th, the first Saturday of March Break here in Toronto. And now, about this photo above....

Da Mao out for a stroll in the snow
I try very hard (and for the most part have succeeded) not to include any fencing or wires or such distracting items of "containment" in my calendar photos. This photo (left) of Da Mao which I took a couple of years ago is a good example. It's not always easy and in some cases requires some adjustment in "post-production", but in the case of March's photo I thought the shot was so strong in and of itself that the fence behind Er Shun's exhibit just sort of fades into the background. And it's easily the best shot I have ever taken of her, in my opinion. I took several shots of her on this January afternoon, a day warm enough that she chose to spend time outside in her "front yard" rather than stay inside her day room. As is the norm for both of our giant pandas, in most of the pictures she is eating or selecting her food, because pandas have to eat for about 14-16 hours a day just to sustain basic bodily functions (and they sleep for the other 8-10 hours). Panda bears have a diet which consists of bamboo virtually exclusively; however, they lack the proper herbivore's digestive system to extract the maximum nutrition and energy from their food. They have adapted in many ways to this diet, but they still must eat or forage for nearly every waking hour of their lives. They also poop up to 40 times a day, a fact which causes much amusement to pretty much every school group I have ever led through the Panda Interpretive Centre.

So it's very rare for me to capture an image of them in which they are looking directly at the camera. It's rarer still for Er Shun to do this while sitting outside on her wooden climbing apparatus, in full view of the wonderful picture window that the Zoo installed a few months after their arrival, replacing the screen that made it exceptionally difficult to take a clear, crisp photo of this beautiful lady. And when you take all of that rarity into consideration and mix it with an imitation of La Gioconda's enigmatic little grin, get the image you see above. I am exceptionally pleased with this shot!

Here are a couple of other "finalists" for the honour of "Requisite Panda Photo" in this year's calendar:

Er Shun, looking like a Ken Do warrior

Da Mao happily snoozing in his beloved snow

Another eye-contact shot of Er Shun; this time she's eating!

Now. About those cubs.....

Day 1: the boy is on the left, girl on the right

Week 6: "twin-swapping", one cub with mom at a time

Week 16: Play time!

These photos (and many, many others) can be found on the Toronto Zoo's website. There are videos there, too, including this one, narrated by Maria Franke, which is currently being shown in the Panda Interpretive Centre:

As I write this, in late February, there is still a naming contest going on...but it will be over by the time this posts. Sometime in March we will learn which names were chosen. And then we'll all finally get to see them live and in person. Which will be pretty awesome, I'm not going to lie to you, but...I'm waiting for my first glimpse of our brand-new baby Indian rhino boy.

But then, if you've been following this blog, you already knew all about that.... :)
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