Maja Hampson

Research, zoo keeping adventures, art, unicorns

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Ocean is fast becoming my favorite word. I have had a love for and fascination with the ocean, ever since I was a little girl. I loved how the colours would change with every season. The ocean can go from blue to neon green or from a vibrant red to a mucky brown - sort of like nature's mood ring. I love what lives in the ocean, from dolphins to tiny invertebrates. My favorites animal is a nudibranch. As a species, they are all so vastly different in size, shape and colour that it's hard to believe they are all related to one another. I highly suggest you check them out.

I found my love for the ocean unexpectedly at the zoo as well. I met a Eurasian lynx named Ocean, and with a name like that, I fell in love with her instantly. She's a little old lady and she's blind. Watching her provides me with countless hours of entertainment, and a sense of amazement. She can't see a thing yet she moves around with more grace than I can muster on a good day. Ocean has her enclosure memorized, which allows her to find her water bowl, the spot where I feed her everyday and her favorite place to sleep in. One night, it was stormy and a tree fell onto the fence of Ocean's enclosure. There was minimal damage to the fence and no damage to the animals, but part of the tree broke off and now lay inside the enclosure. When I discovered it the next morning, I wondered how Ocean would fair against this new obstacle. Would she bump her little nose on it when she encountered it for the first time?

I watched as she trotted towards it and then slowed her pace as she approached the log. I could tell she knew something was different. Ocean batted the log with her paws a few times, but at last stepped over it with care and continued on her way as if nothing had changed. Impressive, I thought, but then again I always seem to underestimate animals.

Most of our guests don't know that Ocean is blind. They are usually surprised when I tell them. Ocean has only one tell: the way she walks. Papa, the male lynx that lives with her, walks with his head forward. His body is relaxed and he lets his nose stick out in front of his body. Ocean takes longer steps with her front paws. She has a slight hesitation to her step and her back end sticks up in the air a little due to her careful slinking. Ocean keeps her nose farther back than Papa, letting her feet lead. Even with all her careful movements, she does occasionally bump things – including Papa. Papa is a bit of a grump and altercations between the two of them do occur, but even without her sight Ocean holds her own. Both Papa and Ocean were privately owned pets and were declawed by their previous owners before they came t live at the zoo. Although it's sad, their lack of claws is for the best, it seems, when it comes to their fights. Even with her all her spirit and surprisingly good aim, I'm grateful that Papa can't do any real damage to Ocean.

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Watching Ocean bat at the air with unfocused eyes is a bit comical. However, I can't help but think of a line from the movie Bolt when I watch her. There is a black cat in the movie that befriends Bolt – her name escapes me right now. When Bolt first meets the cat, it appears that she's vicious and rules the ally ways, but Bolt later discovers that she is actually very vulnerable. She was abandoned by her owners. In frustration she cries out “humans are great until the leave their declawed cat to fend for itself.” Zoos take a lot of heat for keeping animals in captivity, but I ask you this: would a blind, declawed lynx like Ocean stand a chance in the wild? I think you would have to agree that the odds would be stacked against her. In a perfect world there would be no need for zoos, but Ocean should serve as a reminder of why they have to exist.

It's not hard to love Ocean because she truly is amazing, but it's hard to see the good side of her situation. Ocean reminds me everyday why I work in a place that cages animals. I make sure to tell anyone who is foolish enough to want a wild animal as a pet to think twice about the implications of their actions – because I'm reminded every day and it's the least I can do for Ocean's wild counter parts.


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