Best Zoo Animal - 2009
When it comes to favorite animals, our preferences are a bit atypical. While others seek out fave fauna that can be placed in categories such as "adorable" and "cuddly," our most-beloved are best described with such words as "anachronistic" (giant anteater, our pick for 2004), "badass" (the Ozark hellbender, 2007) and "able to challenge the theory of natural selection" (Henrietta the one-armed prairie dog, 2006). This year we're adding a consummate fake-out artist to our exalted pantheon: the bleeding-heart dove. The first time we spied a bleeding-heart dove in the zoo's massive aviary, we exclaimed, "Holy poop!" (and only because there were little kids around). We wondered if we needed to fashion a tiny bird tourniquet or perhaps summon a wee bird ambulance. Because "bleeding heart" doesn't describe the doves' politics, people: We're talking birds who look like they have gaping chest wounds. These doves are at once completely unnerving and strikingly beautiful. They are quite shy — probably because they're tired of the other birds asking, "Hey, what in God's name is that?" — but stick around the aviary long enough and one or two will tiptoe out (they rarely leave the ground). These little birds are unlike anything you've ever seen, and we feel fortunate that some of them call the Saint Louis Zoo their home. Just don't stare too long; it's rude.