Dino Drac goes to the zoo!

I saw some animals, yo.

I hadn’t been to the Staten Island Zoo in more than ten years, but it’s barely changed at all since my last visit. Our zoo is small and isn’t a place that many out-of-towners would travel to see, but it’s clean and has at least one alligator, and that’s all I really ask of zoos.

Below are several highlights.

Half of the zoo is of the “petting” variety, with oodles of domestic animals waiting for handouts. It’s basically a farm, or at least what four-year-olds imagine when they hear “farm.”

This donkey cracked me up. She put on quite a show, rolling on her back and doing fancy things with her feet. It was as if she was trying to say, “You see? We donkeys have a bad rap. We can do more than heehaw.”

In the zoo’s reptile wing, I was mesmerized by this Gila Monster, a venomous lizard with a taste for bird eggs. While technically dangerous, the Gila Monster’s scary reputation is based more on myth than fact.

Take a look at its skin. Notice how much it looks like Haribo Raspberries? Between that and the Halloween coloring, I’m the Gila Monster’s new #1 fan.

Many of the zoo’s tanks/cages/pens had really random toys in them. As was explained by the staff, these foreign objects are meant to stimulate the animals. Apparently, seahorse dolls are a good way to encourage monkey exercise!

I learned a lot at the zoo.

Groundhog Day is a big deal on Staten Island. Our zoo’s groundhogs predict the weather for the entire New York City area, and I remember it being that way since I was a child. One must imagine that “Chuck,” the supposed star groundhog, is actually just one of several groundhogs who assume the role as needed.

Our zoo has plenty of “creepy crawly tanks,” built right into the walls. I felt like I was the only one paying any attention to them, but that was fine with me. Compare this to the pen full of meerkats, where a dozen screaming children punched me in the legs to get a closer look. (Calm down, dudes. I know meerkats are exciting, but they’re not going anywhere.)

Here’s a Chilean rose tarantula, in a tank that’s at least partially suited to housing one. I’m not so sure about putting a big cactus in a tarantula tank, but then, I’ve never owned a tarantula. Someone else may be able to speak on this, since this exact species is a fairly common pet type.

The Staten Island Zoo runs terrific programs meant to educate people about animals and their environments. Some take the form of arts and crafts!

In my favorite example, a cute old lady was helping kids build miniature habitats out of empty soda bottles. Good God, I so wanted to be the weird adult that dived right in with ’em. Instead, I only allowed myself this one photo, which will serve as reference the next time I finish a two-liter Canada Dry.

I’m thinking I’ll make an “arctic habitat.” I’ll fill it with cotton balls, superfine sugar and tiny plastic polar bears. Then I’ll throw in a penguin, even if it’s completely wrong to do so. With my arctic habitat soda bottle, I will BREAK EVERY RULE.

Until this latest trip, I’ve never been to the Staten Island Zoo and not seen a hundred people feeding rye crisps to every animal within reach. (To be honest, we all used to eat them ourselves, too.)

I guess they realized that a nonstop supply of starchy rye crisps wasn’t in the animals’ best interests. Instead, now you can feed the animals some kind of “pellet” food.

I’ll sure miss sharing rye crisps with llamas, though. It occurs to me that I’ll never have a chance to do that again.

Time to write a bad poem.

I’ll end key lines with “llama” and “drama.”

I stood there in awe, three feet away from a snake that was large enough to kill me. Sure, the snake would’ve needed to bust through bulletproof glass to get at me, but it was still a humbling moment.

If we look through the animal catalog, I think death-by-giant-snake must be one of the worst ways to go. This guy wouldn’t inject you with venom and scurry off. He’d slowly steal the breath from you, all while trying to determine if he could fit his mouth around your head.

Other animals might make quicker work and a bigger mess of you, but you’d be in too much of a panic to feel it clearly. Death-by-giant-snake seems worse. It’s just such a process.

I don’t have much to say about this kangaroo, but after that morbid snake section, his friendly loafing is a much needed respite!

Okay, this guy. An African spurred tortoise. I’m including him for a very specific reason.

Back in the sixth grade, I was out of school for three weeks with a terrible case of pneumonia. (Or “ammonia,” as I called it.) I was as sick as I’ve ever been, and because it always seemed worse at night, my sleeping patterns became incredibly erratic.

Somewhere in the middle of those three weeks, I was wide awake at five in the morning, staring out our front window. I couldn’t believe it, but walking on the sidewalk across the street was the biggest tortoise I’d ever seen. Just casually strolling along, like there was nothing at all weird about it.

Keep in mind, we have turtles around here, but land tortoises? I’ve not seen a single wild tortoise aside from this one, ever. So just seeing a tortoise out there was crazy enough, but the SIZE of this thing was downright insane.

Despite my pneumonia, I snuck outside for a closer look. It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. That tortoise was the size of a small table, and he looked like a goddamned MONSTER.

Picture Gamera. Seriously, the thing looked like Gamera.

Seeing this African spurred tortoise reminded me of him, but the one I saw was much “rockier,” and even bigger. It had those strange legs, but the shell looked too dangerous to touch. To this day, I have no idea what kind of tortoise it was, let alone how it was just out there on my neighbor’s sidewalk.

Just by process of elimination, I guess it had to be someone’s escaped (or discarded) pet. But even that doesn’t make sense, because while there are certainly people stupid enough to buy animals and later toss them away, that doesn’t sound like a feasible scenario for a giant monster turtle.

The worst part is, I’ll never know for sure.

UPDATE: With the help of “MrRitter,” my nightmare has finally been identified! It was a giant-sized alligator snapping turtle.

There was a lot to love about the zoo’s miniature aquarium. Specifically: It was dark, it was air conditioned, and it had sharks.

It also had a giant goddamned pufferfish.

This porcupine puffer was in the kind of tank that exaggerates size, but even still, he had to be close to two feet long. Total showstopper. The only animal in the whole zoo that made me stop dead in my tracks and say “whoaaaaa” like a big freakin’ idiot.

Okay, I think I’ve written enough about the zoo.

Goodnight or good morning or good whatever-fits-when-you-read-this.