By Carol Bogart
In a sure sign of spring, the Howdy Gate is now open at the San Diego Zoo (

The Howdy Gate is what the zoo opens when the Giant Pandas show signs of wanting to get — chummy.

Sexual maturity is a good thing in zoo animals, a not-so-good thing in exotic pets which, animal experts say, can turn as unpredictable as other hormonally-charged teenagers.

Some states don’t allow private ownership of exotic animals. California, as evidenced by one-time menagerie at the Michael Jackson Amusement Park, isn’t one of them.

Not long ago, somebody’s pet tiger got loose in the hills outside Los Angeles. After several days of following tracks significantly bigger than a dog’s, state wildlife officers cornered and killed the tiger — which turned out to be declawed.

The wildlife officers couldn’t know that, of course. When they caught up with it, it was just yards from soccer and baseball fields, conjuring up vivid images of what a pet tiger did to Siegfried’s Roy.

Witnesses said Roy, his throat in shreds, gasped out, “Don’t hurt the cat.” It was reported that he thought it must have been “spooked” — a flash photo in the audience maybe? — for it to act so like a … tiger.

As much as I, myself, have an urge to swim with dolphins and cuddle carnivores, one thing I know is that wildlife plays by its own set of rules; rules that aren’t the same as your lapdog’s.

When I was a reporter in Denver, the television station assigned me to investigate a “Safari Dinner” sponsored by a local taxidermist. Among the items on the menu was elephant steak.

Since TV likes “involved” standups, I went to the Denver Zoo so as to include an elephant. The standup is where you see the reporter pretending to walk somewhere while at the same time looking in the camera and telling you something.

In this particular instance, I pretty much had to stand still since I was inside the elephant enclosure with three elephants and their keeper. The photographer was across the moat, behind the fence.

Just as I began my standup, the elephant missed its cue to look mournfully into the camera, and turned its big bristly rump around instead. As I waited for the keeper to get the errant elephant back in position, a drizzle started. So I opened my umbrella.

Turning to gesture toward the elephant behind me, I noticed something. It was backing toward me — kicking!

When the right hind foot failed to connect, it switched to the left. I had nowhere to go. In front of me was a solid wall. Beside me was the moat. To my right were the other two elephants. The elephant was approximately eight feet away and seemed determined to find and crush me.

In a voice strangled with fear I whispered, “She’s kicking back here.” The keeper didn’t hear me. Risking that my voice would help the paciderm locate the source, in what I hoped was a calm tone I repeated, “She’s-kicking-back-here.”

This time he heard. Looking around the bulk of this lumbering mountain, he saw the scant four or five feet left before, if she wanted to, she could just sit down and squash me. With an expression that looked to me like panic, he tried to hook her under her ear with his long pole. Successful on the second attempt and leading her away, he glanced back to say, “She doesn’t like umbrellas.”

Oh, I thought, as I closed it up, now you tell me.

Meantime, the photographer found the whole thing hilarious and continued taping. The elephant stopped in mid-stride, filled up her trunk with stagnant, stinky moat water and soaked him.

Ha ha, yourself, I thought. HahahahahahaHA!

Safe to say, elephants don’t make good pets.

As often as we hear about huge snakes popping their heads out of someone’s toilet, I would say pythons don’t either.

Friends of mine in college in Ohio acquired a pet skunk — de-scented. That spring, it carved out a little den through the carpet and floor in their living room, much to their landlord’s consternation. Of course, they couldn’t just let turn it loose since they’d stripped it of its natural defenses, as did whoever owned the now-dead tiger in southern California.

On the plus side, natural-appearing habitats in zoos house species that could go otherwise go extinct. The San Diego Zoo’s pandas are reportedly having a grand old time.

But in states like California, Ohio and assorted others, too many wild animals lead listless lives confined to backyard cages, wind up dead when they stage a jail break or maim and kill small prey — like children.

Carol Bogart blogs at Contact her at

Be Sociable, Share!