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Zan Thompson

Zoo Babies Can Make Any Mother's Day

May 11, 1986|ZAN THOMPSON

Take your dear, old, gray-haired Irish mother to the zoo for Mother's Day. No matter that there are none left who have gray hair, or that she wears her Liz Claiborne peach-colored coordinates like those long-legged young women who walk down the runway at fashion shows at a merry clip as if they had itching powder in their panty hose. (Who do you suppose decided that the clothes look better if they're worn by models who walk as if they were just catching the last Concorde out of town?)

I love the zoo any time of the year, and in the spring it is full of babies looking at the world with that aching innocence seen only in the young. The Los Angeles Zoo is a world-class zoo and a dandy place to go for Mother's Day. I was there a couple of months ago and a Bactrian camel had just had a baby. When my godchild, Muffie, from Escanaba, Mich., tried to take pictures of the baby, the mother camel placed herself between the baby and the camera and at one point, marched toward the fence with her head lowered--a mother who wanted no baby pictures. The baby was a cute little fellow, his hump no bigger than a boudoir pillow.

In the last few weeks, there has been a great burst of monkey babies, most of them to older mothers on whom other zoos had given up. The age bracket is as if a bunch of late 40ish pre-baby boomers suddenly had babies.

Cathleen Cox, who as a research director has worked on the mothers' nutrition to improve their fertility, said that the girls are having the equivalent of catered spa meals, each serving abrim with health-giving vegetables and fruits. There were 14 docent observers watching the monkeys and making copious notes on their behavior, to see what foods stepped up their interest in romance.

One of the baby monkeys is a Uakari, a South American with a bright red face that makes him look as if he had stayed in the sun far too long. He is the first Uakari ever born in the United States.

Then there is a big black howler monkey, also from South America, a breed which had almost been given up for lost. That's the triumph in all these births. Almost all of the animals are borderline babies, almost extinct.

Two red-crowned mangabeys from Africa are in the nursery. They have red fur on the tops of their heads, as their name indicates.

A baby golden tamarin, which originates in South America, is on the 2 o'clock-feeding list. He is a little animal and looks as if he must surely be battery operated. He has a heavy ruff of bright gold framing his tiny face. This small wonder is a highly endangered species, which made his birth a happy event--as they all were.

There is a ring-tailed lemur baby. This is a monkey with eyes like those Keane drawings of children: large, round and sad. His tail is striped in circles of two colors, very natty.

Marcia Hobbs, who is the director of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., just returned from China where she negotiated a loan of some golden monkeys. They are a large animal, like a baboon. They will be in our zoo for three months and there is an agreed-upon option of another three months, which is highly likely to be taken up. The Chinese, who have a great respect for monkeys, will then send other groups of goldens to Seattle and San Francisco. Each group makes just one visit, then it's hi-ho for their home turf.

Lora LaMarca, the curator of education for the zoo, told me of still another monkey baby, an azsu from South America. And there's a woolly monkey who is 6 months old but still in the nursery.

There is also a brand new baby wart hog, and even on Mother's Day, probably his own mother is the only one who cares.

Still, there's no telling. Look at those pot-bellied pigs which are new at the zoo. Dr. Warren Thomas, director of the zoo, thinks they're gorgeous. Of course, he's a pig man. Warren just happens to like pigs. A lot.

After the zoo tour, take your mother out to dinner, but be sure it's some place that won't be churning with noise and clatter. There seems to be a mistaken idea abroad that noise makes a better meal. Wrong. Anything louder than the gentle plunk of a harp is too much.

Have a delightful Mother's Day, whether you are the honoree or the child. And as long as you're at the zoo anyway, go by and see the pot-bellied pigs. It'll make Warren's day.

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