Charles’s mom, Carol, who works at the National Zoo, arranged a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Small Mammal House for us. We felt like VIPs getting to go back into the exhibits to meet the animals. Kenton was an excellent tour guide and taught us a lot.
The first animal we got to meet was this Small Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrec named Sansa. She may look like a small hedgehog, but she’s actually a tenrec and not related to a hedgehog at all. It just looks like it due to convergent evolution.
Molly was happy to pet the tenrec, though it would have been a bad idea if it was scared and had its sharp spines up. Leah was not up for petting anything with spines.
The next animal we met was Bonnie the three-banded armadillo. She was just waking up, so still curved into her defensive ball.
Leah did pet Bonnie the armadillo, but she was so quick in doing it that I didn't hit the shutter on my camera fast enough.
Molly of course pet Bonnie the armadillo as well.
After we pet her, Bonnie was allowed to run around a bit. She seemed happy to stretch her legs.
Molly was really enjoying the tour and eager to see what was next.
Next we met Clark the prehensile-tailed porcupine, who was very happy to see us as it meant he got a tasty snack. He started with some corn on the cob.
Here's Clark patiently waiting for his next snack after finishing some papaya.
Here's Jen feeding Clark his favorite treat - bananas. In fact, when he was first born he almost died, but bananas helped save his life. Scroll down to Porcupine Problems there for his story.
We then went to a different section of the small mammal house to meet a couple of naked mole-rats. These are some seriously weird animals, but Leah had no problems getting up close to them (without touching, though).
Naked mole-rats have no fat under their skin and no hair on it, which means their skin is fairly translucent.
Kenton then opened up the exhibit to let us see the three naked mole-rat colonies and ask questions. This meant that everyone could see us as if we were part of the exhibit. I think this was Molly's favorite part, both because she liked seeing the animals and because she liked feeling special.
After our behind-the-scenes tour, we walked around the public parts of the Small Mammal House. Of course, the meerkats were a highlight. Leah and this meerkat had a staring contest.
There was not much more than a big piece of plexiglass separating Leah from this meerkat.
Molly knew that meerkats eat insects, so she decided to try to attract the meerkat by showing off the ladybug on her shirt. It was not fooled.
Leah thought she'd follow Molly's lead and show off the giraffe on her shirt to attract the meerkat. I think she's a bit confused about what might interest a meerkat.
After the Small Mammal House, we wandered most of the zoo. As always, otters are very entertaining. Here's Molly (in the reflection) and Leah off to the side checking out an otter swimming around in front of them.
Molly and Leah are squinting without their glasses, but these otters sure do look cool.
This panda was chowing down on some bamboo.
Not only did Carol get us behind the scenes at the Small Mammal House, she also got us a bunch of tickets to ride the carousel. The girls were very excited to get to ride it twice. If you ever ride it, you can see the cuttlefish is dedicated to Charles's mom and sister.
Checking out the turtles, as we have done before.
Hello, Mr. Lion. We're happy to see you, even if we are exhausted having been at the zoo for more than six hours.
It was by far the longest trip to the zoo we've ever had, but the girls were troopers and did very well. To my surprise, they even stayed awake as we drove home through traffic.
The finale to the day's adventure was eating dinner at Chick-fil-A for the first time since they closed for renovations. The girls have been ready for their favorite restaurant to reopen for some time, and they were happy to see how fancy it is now.