Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Nature and wildlife field trip

Today was a full day, and it was a good day! We left this morning for Predator World down in Branson at about 8:35 and got there at about 9:45. The homeschoolers group we were meeting was supposed to show at 10:30 so we were in plenty of time. Better early than worried about being late!

Predator World is not terribly large, but it is fascinating and different than anywhere else we have been. When we walked outside to see the lions, tigers, and wolves, we were amazed to see a man in the lion's den playing pattycake with him. Actually he was teasing him and slapping him with his own paw. Both were having a great time! When the handler got up and headed to the gate, the lion gamboled along beside him just like a big dog. He had such a sad look on his face when the man went through the gate, shutting it behind him. He cocked his head like, "Don't go."

Later we saw him tossing a ball to three tiger cubs playing in a pool. The same scene was reenacted there when he left. They followed him toward the gate too. They were in the same area though so they walked toward the white bengal in the area beside theirs and roared at him. The white bengal was the papa of the three cubs. The four exchanged what sounded like friendly roars (much quieter for one thing), and then the cubs walked into their den. One was trying to bite another's leg. Obviously the tease of the family! :-)

It was interesting to find out that their were no alpha males there. There were some in 2nd place, but the alpha was whatever human was in their area. The guide said they thrived on the attention and begged for more all the time. I couldn't help but think what a marvelous job that would be. Of course, there would be more than a few hazards to the job! The lion was a maneless male lion, and he was apparently the only one that had not been declawed and they are all well fed. Even so, by sheer weight and strength, any of those animals could do some damage!

Predator World also has a black bear and bengal tiger that share an area. The keepers figure that the bear either thinks he is a tiger or the tiger thinks he is a bear. They have lived together since they were 3 months old. Unless the animals have always been together, they do not have them share an area. For example, there are 3 areas for tigers (one for the white bengals, one for the orange bengal and bear, and one for the tiger cubs.) Then there are two areas for wolves. One for three that have been together since two of them were cubs, and one for a new wolf.

There are crocodiles, alligators, snakes, fish, and sharks also at Predator World. They have several tanks of various kinds of fish. The kids got to feed the sharks, turtles, and the various kinds of fish in another large tank. Many of the animals and reptiles are native to this area or nearby. I think all but the tigers probably are native to this country. There was a good variety; it gave us an appreciation for how many different kinds of animals are in this country!

When we were done at Predator World (about 2 - 2 1/2 hours later), we decided to head over to the Shephard of the Hills Conservation Center. It is a fish hatchery below the Table Rock Dam. Big dam! Hoover Dam is much larger, but this was big enough! The kids learned about the softshell turtle there and also got to see a video about the construction of the dam, narrated by the engineer of the project. There was a picture of the flood waters going over the top of the dam before it was finished. The contractor worked furiously between February and April and got a tremendous amount finished but was not able to complete the dam in time. The got footage of the "man-made" waterfall. It was spectacular!!! It was some weeks before the head engineer went back to the site. In his words, "Even this young engineer knew enough to guess how many rifles would be trained on him if he ventured among the native Ozarkians who had just been flooded out." The Appalachian folk had nothing on the Ozarkians! Apparently the Army Corps of Engineers added an additional dam to help with flood waters. The lake could rise enough to go right over the top before the new section was added.

The nature center at the base of the dam is also a very large fish hatchery, producing millions of trout. We learned that trout are not native to Missouri because the water is not cold enough. Because the "new" Table Rock Lake is more than 230 feet deep (I think), the water at the bottom is very cold; the sun doesn't penetrate it to warm it up. The dam generators pump it out to Taneycomo Lake (sp?) so that lake is excellent for trout. Thousands of people fish there. Because of the generators though, the eggs don't have a chance so they continue to spawn fish at the hatchery. In the wild, about 15% of the eggs hatch; at Shephard Hills, 80% do, so fishermen are blissfully happy.

Next, we drove over the dam, stopping after the new part of the dam to see it, and then driving over the main part. Never mind the thunder and lightning, the kids wanted to run down to see the dam up close and personal. After that, we went over to the visitors center to see their exhibits and video. They also had a nature trail (fully paved) that we hiked. Then we went out to the car, told it to go home, and it did (at least the GPS told us how to go which was good because I had no idea and no map!) I only said No! and did my own thing about 6 times. I have learned that the "easy" way is not usually the "best" or "fastest" way. So when I saw the sign for 65, I looped around to catch it.

We got home around 3:00 and found our house intact. No small feat considering that we had left Gideon loose in the house for the first time since he was a little puppy getting into the garbage. (I had taken the garbage out before we left this morning.) The doggy door was open so he could go outside, and all was well. Woohoo!!!!! Then tonight I completed something that I have dreamed of doing for probably 10 years! All in all, a very satisfying, blessed day!

No comments: