I Know Why the Caged Bird Swears

Patricia Corrigan spills the secrets of the St. Louis Zoo in a new book

Wild Things: Untold Tales From the First Century of the Saint Louis Zoo is a neat little book by Patricia Corrigan, just released by local company Virginia Publishing. Forthwith, seven stories of mayhem involving the residents of our beloved zoo, as described in the book:

Very superstitious: During a taping of The St. Louis Zoo Show (which aired from 1968-78), a common black cat leaped from a table to zoo director Charlie Hoessle's shoulders to the rafters of the studio. Three days later, the cat surprised everyone on the set of Dialing for Dollars when it leaped back down during a live shoot.

Marlin the magician: In 1928, 23-year-old Marlin Perkins nearly died when he was bitten by the dreaded Gaboon viper. Curator Moody Lentz immediately cut Perkins' finger and tried to suck out the venom. Perkins' arm gradually swelled to Popeye size and he fainted, but as we know, he made a full recovery.

Keeper Herb Foerster bonds with Siegfried the walrus.
Keeper Herb Foerster bonds with Siegfried the walrus.

Details

7 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Ave. (314-367-6731); from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 13, at Barnes & Noble-Des Peres, 11952 Manchester Rd. (314-984-8644); at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at Borders Books & Music, 6601 N. Illinois, Fairview Heights, Ill. (618-397-6097); and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, at another Borders, 1519 S. Brentwood (314-918-8189). Admission to all events is free.

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So, honey, how was work today? In the late '70s, a young male rhino started grinding away at the hindquarters of an older female, but he "wasn't quite connected," as Corrigan judiciously describes the scene. Their imperfect coupling caused a fountain of rhino semen that spouted 10 feet into the air. Naturally, the curator of mammals thought this would be a swell opportunity to obtain some of the stuff to test it for sperm motility, so two zookeepers ran into the enclosure with buckets, successfully catching a dollop of rhino jizz for the cause.

Big baby:Popular walrus Siegfried (who died in 1976) was subject to frequent tusk infections, which meant that antibiotics had to be injected directly into the 4,000-pound creature. To administer these shots safely, the keepers first had to drain the water from his pool. Whenever Siegfried noticed that the water level was starting to fall, he swam to the bottom of the pool and lay on the drain to avoid the procedure.

You talkin' to me? In the early '80s, a two-headed bull snake was welcomed at the Zoo. When it was chow time, the keepers had to put an index card between the Siamese heads so they didn't fight.

Dirty bird: In 1930, someone donated to the zoo a parrot that cussed like Bobby Knight. The staff was concerned enough that they segregated the bird from the other parrots. The bird was eventually sold to a private owner in New York for the then-princely sum of $150.

Elephant 1, mouse 0: One elephant who had no fear of mice was Clara, who would notice the occasional rodent making off with some of her food. If Clara saw a mouse, she would raise one foot and wait for it to approach. If the unlucky mouse came close enough, the pachyderm would squash it flat and kick it into the corner, eating all the while.

 
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