As I was getting ready for ConDor this weekend, I realized that if I arrived early I could spend the day at Seaworld. Seaworld, as far as I can tell, is the only place in the Southwest that has arctic foxes (which aren’t exactly native to this part of the world), and there’s an arctic fox character in one of my works in progress. So I called the PR department to ask if I could talk with the trainers and ask them some questions.
The folks at Seaworld were fabulous. Not only did they let me ask as many questions as I wanted, but they took me back into the arctic fox enclosure and let me watch them for a while as I asked my questions. There were two foxes there, a male white morph (Boris) and a female gray morph (Natasha).
I fed Natasha a mix of dog kibble and meat and fish heads and other things from a small bowl. Her fur was–soft, but not the silky soft I expected from arctic fox pictures, or from touched a red fox pelt at another museum. It was–wooly plush toy soft, only softer than a wooly plush toy should be.
Natasha retired not long after, but Boris hung around, in large part because he really, really wanted to steal the pen attached to my notebook. 🙂 Arctic foxes, it became quickly clear, are very much guided by those long noses when they explore.
When I asked if they were more doglike or catlike, I was told they’re aloof like cats but play like dogs. Play with each other, that is–even though Boris and Natasha were raised from six weeks old at Seaworld, they remained skittish around humans.
Unless there’s food involved, which is the only time they truly get close to humans. 🙂 (Of course, food will make them walk up to polar bears, too, so that’s only saying so much!) When I fed Boris some kibble from my hand, I felt his wet nose in my hand as his wet smooth tongue licking up the traces of food left in my palm.
They let me linger, watching Boris, for some time. I’m incredibly grateful.
Afterwards, with an afternoon still before me, I headed out to wander the park.
And then I stumbled into a presentation at the Penguin Encounter. Afterwards, there was a penguin question-of-the-day–first person to raise their hand with an answer gets to go back into the exhibit, which was on the other side of glass.
The question was: what two penguins live in Antarctica.
Did I mention I went through an Antarctica research and reading phase? And I got my hand up in time.
So I got to visit the penguins. 🙂 I was allowed guests, so I invited along two strangers who were also visiting the park, because even if I was enjoying being there alone, the chance to visit penguins should be shared.
A particularly social king penguin named Tut consented to be petted. King penguins are silky soft, as it turns out, far softer than they look. 🙂
My third animal interaction of the day was with the dolphins. I paid for that one, buying some fish during feeding time. The dolphins have been trained: if a human holds out their hand palm down over the water, let them pet you–and then you’ll get rewarded with a fish for tolerating them.
Dolphins feel rubbery and not at all soft.
I also got to touch seal fur (soft), sea lion fur (coarser), and shark skin (sandpaper-sharp), but none of those were attached to their original owners when I did.
But any day in which one gets to touch an arctic fox, a king penguin, and a dolphin? (All things one couldn’t–and shouldn’t–and wouldn’t–do in the wild.) Is pretty near to perfect, as far as I’m concerned.