Minor highs and a major goodbye

I am at full throttle, high tensile, red zone. My husband’s 40th party is this Saturday at our place, so the culmination of months of planning has boiled down to five days of freak-out mode. A few days later, we are hosting Thanksgiving for a crowd. It comes in waves, the holy s&$@ this is happening combines with, it’s a house party, it’ll be fine. Just gave Matt his first gift: life-sized beer pong, aka Bear Pong. America super sizes some horrible things, but sometimes she gets it right.
  Another minor win is the wreath I’ve been working on, as documented in my last post. It’s done, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Other than the wire form, purchased last year, all items were collected (read:free- other than the fake flowers for $1.99) from our farm or nearby.  

Best compliment was from Matt, who said, you could sell these! Glad he noticed it at all, and thought to comment. If a dude notices a wreath, that’s good stuff. Next project is another wreath, using pine cones collected from two of our cat yards at the zoo.

Speaking of the zoo… Today was my last full day with Chisulo, one of our three juvenile male lions. Wednesday, he is flying out in the morning to Fresno Chaffee Zoo. We watched him being born, and have loved watching him grow into a 350 lb teenaged lion. His mane is a work in progress, but he has matured well so far. He has two females waiting for him in a brand new exhibit. It is a difficult thing, sending him off. We have done it many times, so in practical way, it is rote and procedural. That part I can handle. The emotional side is, however, hard to wrap one’s brain around. For me, it is felt most the day after. When you’re counting lions in order to safely enter the lion yard, or when preparing food for “all of the lions,” and somehow you try to prepare one more. 

We have done our best to get him comfortable with being away from his two brothers. We tell ourselves that we will visit him soon. The reality is, on a zookeeper’s salary, such trips are often either not financially feasible or for family reasons, not possible. We have sent seven cubs from previous litters to other zoos. I’m embarrassed to admit that while I can see them thriving through the the photos of those much more talented than I, I have yet to make a trip to see any of them. Someday, someday, I tell myself. 

So I have to be content for the time I have. Today, I spent all morning with Chisulo doing our last training session, a painting, and preparing him again for going into his transfer crate. He doesn’t want to hang out with me, necessarily. He is happy to take meat as a reward during training and painting. I am content with the fact that we did everything we could to raise a healthy, happy lion. He will be able to lead his own pride and be loved by a completely new fan base. He will help inspire a new generation to want to protect his wild counterparts, which is one of the reasons zookeepers do what they do for a living.

It just sucks for me to see him go. As a young cub, he got very ill and fortunately, we were able to save his life. He is one of the few cubs we as keepers were allowed to name. We close “Chisulo”, which translates to “strength of steel.” He survived his illness and thrived enough to become the largest of the litter. His nickname is “Chui”.

Chui, a little bluish from a frenetic painting session, and his abstract artwork. Best of luck to you, big guy. I’m sure your new keepers will fall in love with you like I did.

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