Tropical Penguins

Feeding Time for the Humboldt Penguins at the Santa Barbara Zoo

I am looking back to a visit Martine and I made to the Santa Barbara Zoo some ten years ago this month. At the time, penguins interested me more and more. In 2006, I had seen some Magellanic penguins at Isla Pájaros on the Beagle Channel in Argentina’s State of Tierra Del Fuego.

In 2010, I had hopes of talking Martine into coming with me to Argentina in 2011 (which she did) and seeing the penguins at Pájaros and Punta del Tombo in the State of Chubut.

The penguins at the Santa Barbara Zoo are similar to the Magellanic penguins of Argentina, but they inhabit warmer country, namely the coastal regions of Northern Chile (site of the Atacama Desert) and Peru.

Lone Humboldt Penguin

I have always regarded the penguins at the Santa Barbara Zoo as my favorite exhibit. Clumsy on land, the Humboldts swim with speed, fury, and precision. (For that reason, they are much harder to photograph when they’re in the water.)

Flamingo Road

Chilean Flamingos at the Santa Barbara Zoo

On Saturday, Martine and I drove to Santa Barbara for a fish and chips lunch at the Harbor and a visit to the local zoo. Los Angeles has a bigger zoo, but it’s too big, too crowded—and it’s difficult to get buy without multiple stroller collision injuries. They’re always doing construction and forcing large numbers of visitors down narrow pathways, ending up with massive foot traffic jams.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are two smaller museums that I love: The Living Desert in the Coachella Valley and the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Like all zoos, it is impossible to see all the animals because:

  • Some of them have been withdrawn for various reasons
  • Others prefer to be in hiding, escaping the prying eyes of the gawkers

No matter, I got an eyeful of what I wanted to see, especially Chadwick the African lion, who is usually in the latter category, except that he is visible from the little train ride that circles the 32 acres of the zoo. Plus we saw the elephants, the gibbons, the Humboldt penguins, the giraffes (who have a much harder time of it if they wanted to hide). Oh yes, we also saw (and smelled) the Chilean Flamingos.

Bronze Plaque Honoring Gemina the Crooked Neck Giraffe

There is even a nice bronze plaque commemorating Gemina, the zoo’s late “crooked neck giraffe,” who died in 2008. I remember seeing her, with her neck that took off at a 90 degree angle midway up. It looked incredibly painful; but Gemina had a longer than normal life and was attractive enough to at least one male giraffe who made her a successful mother with healthy issue. One of these days, I’ll try to find one of my pictures of Gemina. I know I took several on former trips to the zoo.


At the Santa Barbara Zoo and Mission

Meerkat on Guard at the Santa Barbara Zoo

Today I rented a car to take Martine and me to Santa Barbara. My 1994 Nissan Pathfinder has a brake warning light and ABS warning light, requiring me to take it into the shop on Monday. (Even without the warning lights, I would have rented a car. It would be far cheaper than towing the Nissan great distances.)

It doesn’t take long to “do” the SB Zoo, which at 30 acres merits about two hours, more if you want to sit down and take in the atmosphere. It is only a few hundred yards from Cabrillo Beach, which makes it all the better. And today was a relatively cool day.

After the zoo, we had some extra time, so we revisited the Santa Barbara Mission—founded in 1789 by Padre Fermín Lasuén, who took over the entire chain of twenty-one missions for Padre Junípero Serra after the latter’s death. I know that the Spanish missions were involved in the suppression of the local Indian tribes, yet remain as so many islands of peace dotting the California landscape.

The Santa Barbara Franciscan Mission

As we were touring the mission’s museum, one of the old Franciscan padres introduced himself to us. He looked frail, probably in his eighties, but was friendly. We toured the old church and the adjoining small cemetery as well. According to a sign in the cemetery, there are some 800 Chumash Indians buried there, not to mention the Spanish conquistadors and subsequent American settlers and their families.

On the way home, we decided to skip the coastal route (there was serious construction on Route 1 in Santa Monica) and the even more crowded U.S. 101 in favor of Route 126 through Santa Paula and Fillmore. It added perhaps ten miles to our trip, but it was more restful driving through all that farm country. Plus, we stopped at Cornejo’s fruit stand near Fillmore to buy some white peaches and plums.


Gemina, the Giraffe With the Crooked Neck

Tomorrow, I will take Martine to one of our favorite places, the Santa Barbara Zoo. Martine will probably leave me at some point in the next two or three weeks, so I want to spend some of that time revisiting places we love.

Although Los Angeles has a bigger zoo, it is so crowded and so constricted by constant construction that visitors have a hard time negotiating the paths without getting run over by harassed parents pushing strollers. As their website says, the SB Zoo has 500 animals and only 30 acres. That’s just about our speed, and tomorrow promises to be a nice day.

The most remarkable animal we have seen at the Zoo is the late Gemina, the giraffe with the crooked neck. The following long quote is a release from the zoo that I thought I’d like to pass on to you:

If you visited the Zoo between 1990 and 2008, you probably saw an unusual giraffe. Her name was Gemina and she had a crook in her neck.

Born at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (now San Diego Safari Park) in 1986, Gemina was a Baringo (or Rothschild’s) giraffe, and joined the Santa Barbara Zoo’s giraffe herd when she was just about a year old.

Her neck seemed normal until a bump appeared when she was around three years old. Slowly, over time, it sharpened into a distinctive “V”, which interrupted the graceful curve of her neck.

Though she was examined by veterinarians, a cause for the crook could not be determined. The good news? In spite of her appearance, she didn’t exhibit any signs of being in pain.

In fact, the crook didn’t hamper Gemina’s life at the Zoo. She received normal treatment by zookeepers, ate normally, gave birth to a calf, and was an accepted member of the Zoo’s giraffe herd. She was beloved by our guests, locals and visitors alike.

Long before I came to work here as the Zoo’s publicist, management had decided not to sensationalize Gemina. We could have emblazoned her image on t-shirts and made banners with her silhouette, but that’s not our style. She was a member of the giraffe herd, and not to be exploited. We responded to media requests, but didn’t push out the story.

But Gemina became an icon in spite of our low-key approach. In its second season (2004), “The Bachelor” filmed a sunset dinner at the giraffe exhibit, and the couple met Gemina. In the 2005 television show “Miracle Workers,” she was the source of inspiration for a young boy with severe scoliosis. In 2007, she was voted Number One of the “Seven Wonders of Santa Barbara” in a local radio station poll.

Martine at the Santa Barbara Zoo in 2007 … in Happier Times

By then, she was 20 years old, which is elderly for a giraffe in captivity. We threw a party for her 21st birthday, knowing that her time was nearing an end. Many of us had tears in our eyes when Zoo Campers, wearing self-made giraffe hats, sang “Happy Birthday.”

She lived another five months, before she stopped eating and her health declined. Gemina was humanely euthanized on January 9, 2008. It was a sad day at the Zoo.

But her memory lives on. Gemina is still the most asked-about animal at the Zoo, even eight years later. A children’s book, “Gemina the Crooked-Neck Giraffe,” written and illustrated by Karen B. Winnick, was released in 2013, and is still for sale in the Zoo Gift Store (all proceeds benefit the Zoo).

Now, her fans can again visit Gemina. Her distinctive top six vertebrae, skull, and jawbone have been preserved and rearticulated, and are now on view in a display case as part of the Zoo’s “Animals…Inside Out” art exhibit in the Discovery Pavilion’s Volentine Gallery.

It’s free, with admission, to view Gemina and the exhibit of cool animal x-rays. Gemina’s skeleton is on view 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.

Thanks goes to Skulls Unlimited for her skeletal work, and to TruPart, a Ventura company, for building the display case free of charge.

Gemina reminds us all that being different is just fine. She’s a reminder to me not to blithely feed the media’s appetite for the odd and outrageous. That we can tell a quieter story, about being accepted in a herd of your peers and loved by a generation of visitors. That one giraffe can still stand tall, even with a crooked neck.


Islands of Peace

The Church at Mission Santa Barbara

The Church at Mission Santa Barbara with Martine in the Foreground

The California Missions are probably the state’s best claim to a rich history going back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I find it nothing less than amazing that most if not all of Franciscan Father Junipero Serra’s missions are still in existence, after all the earthquakes, fires, and other disasters to which California is prone.

Mission Santa Barbara is one of four missions dedicated to converting and regimenting the Chumash Indians of the area (the others are La Purisima in Lompoc, Santa Ynez in Solvang, and San Buenaventura in Ventura). Although Father Serra was declared beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988, there are still unresolved issues regarding mistreatment of the Indians. Each of the missions also contained Spanish military barracks for troops enforcing the political dictates of the Spanish Viceroys. So it is not uncommon to find stories where the Indians were both helped and repressed by the Missions and their dual religious and political functions.

Chumash Painting of St. Francis

Chumash Painting of St. Francis

Whatever really happened at these missions, today they are, collectively, a cultural treasure—islands of peace dotted along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. I have visited perhaps ten of them so far and hope to see the rest of them eventually.

Martine and I visited Mission Santa Barbara (for the third or fourth time) on Saturday during our recent trip to the area.



Native Greenery

A Trail Through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

A Trail Through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

It’s remarkable how many of the plants we regard as being typical of California are actually imports. For instance, there is the jacaranda tree, which originally hails from Bolivia and Argentina, and the eucalyptus, an import from Australia.And it’s not only the trees, but also wildflowers, “weeds,” grasses, and other plants which came from elsewhere and spread like wildfire. Did you know, for instance, that the Tumblin’ Tumbleweed of song is actually called the Russian Thistle and comes from, you guessed it, the steppes of Eurasia.

On a hot Saturday last weekend, Martine and I took a circular trail through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting native California plants. We went through some forty ounces of cold Dasani water as we took every opportunity to sit down on shady benches and look around us.

We had tried to visit the Botanic Garden once before, but that was at the time of the Jesusita Fire of May 2009, which actually consumed part of the gardens. In fact, part of the gardens that were affected are shown in the photo above. In four years, the grasses and shrubbery bounced back quickly, though many of the tree trunks are scarred with burn marks.

The wilder parts of Southern California, such as the Botanic Gardens, which are in the foothills of the mountains around Santa Barbara, have a distinctive look and feel. They are not as “friendly” as Eastern forests. Mainly, that is because so many of the plants are somewhat prickly. In the spring at least, there is ample greenery everywhere; but once the fall months approach, much of it dries out and turns light brown until the next rainy season starts the whole cycle over again.

The road to the Botanic Gardens is tricky. You head uphill past the Santa Barbara Mission and take three or four roads to get to your destination. Fortunately, there are helpful directional signs along the way. Although the Gardens don’t get that many visitors, it is a worthwhile place to visit and good for soothing the soul of someone who has just survived a brutal tax season.


Penguin Feeding Time

Friday Afternoon Penguin Feeding

Friday Afternoon Penguin Feeding

I have always loved penguins. They are at one and the same time naive and well able to defend themselves with their razor-sharp beaks. The penguins on display at the Santa Barbara Zoo, which Martine and I visited last Friday, are Humboldt Penguins from around Peru, close to the Equator.

Never have I seen any emperor penguins, though I did see one disconsolate king penguin in Tierra Del Fuego in 2011 who got lost from his group and wound up with a colony of Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins on Isla Martillo in the Beagle Channel. (See picture below.)

Lost King Penguin in Argentina

Lost King Penguin in Argentina

That King Penguin was making a nuisance of himself by trying to mate with the smaller local penguins, who were having none of that particular type of miscegenation.

Why do Martine and I like the Santa Barbara Zoo instead of the much larger one at Griffith Park in Los Angeles? It seems that every time we go to the L.A. Zoo, they are undergoing major construction, forcing large crowds of people into narrow walkways past some upcoming future attraction. Until that future attraction arrives in the sweet by-and-by, we would be assailed by countless strollers wielded by desperate parents pushing their progeny through a surly mob. The future is nice, but I usually make my judgments based on the present.

There is some construction going on at the Santa Barbara Zoo, but it is small-scale compared to the pharaonic scale of L.A.

I’ve always loved zoos. We had a good time in November 2011 at the Buenos Aires Zoo, and I am toying with the idea of visiting the small Reykjavik Zoo in Iceland this June.

It was pretty hot the two days we were in Santa Barbara, but there are always a lot of shady benches for us to rest and re-hydrate ourselves.

I Get Scammed

Doesn’t Look Like a Crime Scene, Does It?

Doesn’t Look Like a Crime Scene, Does It?

If I haven’t posted the last couple of days, it’s because Martine and I took the weekend off and drove to Santa Barbara. We were staying at the idyllic-looking Marina Beach Motel on Bath Street right near the coast in Santa Barbara. It was an ideal location, midway between the marina and Stearns Wharf with their seafood eateries.

Unfortunately, Martine is still not feeling up to par with the traveling pains around her back and shoulder blades (fibromyalgia?). She got tired quickly, and she wasn’t able to sleep comfortably on the king-sized bed in the motel because the mattress was too mushy for her. Also, she was still too exhausted to do much walking at the tourist attractions we visited, about which you will be hearing over the next few days.

More seriously, last night as I was dozing off in the motel room, I received a phone call purportedly from the front desk. It was one “Stacy Anderson” to tell me that the registration records for eighteen rooms in the motel had been lost because of a computer glitch, and would I dictate the relevant info to her over the phone? Because I was groggy and my critical faculties were not operating at par, I complied—including giving “Stacy” my credit card info.

As Bugs Bunny, would say, “Whatta maroon!” Just after I gave this info, I was given an 8-digit “confirmation number” (94184437) and told that I would get 40% off my bill for helping them out. It was at that point that I said the big “Uh oh!” and threw my clothes on.

Naturally, the night crew, who were sitting around sharing a pizza, had no idea of who “Stacy Anderson” was, nor had they called, nor was there anything wrong with their computer. I ran back to my room, picked up my cell phone, and called U.S. Bank to report a credit card fraud. Sure enough, they had already run up a $320 charge with Access Secure Deposits, which I denied having initiated. My credit card was promptly canceled, and I scissored it and distributed the pieces across a wide swath of Southern California.

If you are staying at a hotel or motel, you would do well to distrust any communications over the land line telephone in your room. If it is from the “front desk,” tello them you’ll be right there—and hang up! Don’t be a fool like me.