"Banana! You have bird mail!" Cutie called from the garden.
How exciting, I loved bird mail! You never knew which of your many friends, relatives and acquaintances might send you a message! Last week we were visited by a rosella, passing on a message from Algae the long-necked turtle living in a dam nearby, telling us he had found not only one but FIVE wives, and the happy couples (or would that be a "pentaple"???) were expecting to lay a hundred or so eggs all up by next month. Then he told us so far he had already collected twenty-three more species of algae from his new home, and gave us each of their scientific names; but since the rosella couldn't remember more than a couple of syllables, the names were so extremely garbled not even Mrs Keeper could make them out.
The rosella was going back to the dam later in the day, and was happy to take our reply back to Algae. We told him about the finches' own eggs, and asked how long it would take for HIS little bubs to hatch? Then he sent an answer back via a mynah, and so on and so forth, so that was pretty fun. But the bird mail today couldn't have been from Algae, because Algae usually directed his mail to everyone at the Sunny Zoo, not just to me.
I glided out the backdoor into the yard, and saw that Cutie was chatting to a peregrine falcon. Wow, a falcon! Must have been a long-distance message - we didn't get these often! Normally falcons and guinea pigs - or snakes for that matter - didn't get on too well, seeing as they were quite a bit higher than us in the food pyramid. But the Natural Kingdom Rules dictated that all this predator-and-prey business was postponed for the purposes of bird mail, as predator birds, generally more powerful and capable of travelling longer distances, had such an important role to play. The predator birds themselves were more than happy to comply with this rule; most of them were very honourable creatures, and took their part in the bird mail system very seriously, so even helpless little rodents like the guinea pigs could receive their messages from faraway friends with a complete peace of mind.
Seeing my approach, the elegant peregrine falcon straightened and fixed his eagle eyes on me (a bit unnerving actually). His voice was higher in pitch than I expected, a little scratchy, but very self-assured: "Greetings, I am here as a bird mail messenger, so you need have no fear. Are you Banana the Spotted Python of Sunny Zoo?"
"Yes, I am," I replied, keeping my respectful distance. That was instinct. Just in case, you know. Not that anyone had ever been eaten or even attacked in the history of bird mail, as far as I was aware.
"I am pleased to convey a message from Miss Monster the Reticulated Python, from Room 21 of the Australian Reptile Park," said the peregrine falcon.
Ah, my lovely friend Monster from the Central Coast! We met once last year, when I went with our human employees to the Reptile Park for a family day trip, and we really hit it off, even though she came from the family of the world's largest pythons, while I came from one of the smallest. She lived in an enclosure - not terribly big, compared to my own comfortable house at the Sunny Zoo - but she was quite satisfied with her lot, and enjoyed soaking in her private pond and watching all the visitors.
"Miss Monster would like to invite you to see her at the Reptile Park today, as she would be out and about on her inaugural weighing ceremony," continued the falcon.
"Err, just out of curiosity..." interrupted Cutie, who was blatantly eavesdropping. "I thought Monster lives in an enclosure? How did she manage to meet you and give you the message?"
The falcon turned his head regally in Cutie's direction, and to his credit Cutie only took an almost imperceptible step backwards. "Cockroach mail," replied the falcon simply.
"Ah, okay!" said Cutie, his curiosity satisfied.
I would certainly love to catch up with Monster again, but it was quite a journey to the Reptile Park, and I wouldn't be able to make it without one of the human employees giving me a lift by car. "Are you going back to the Park, sir?" I asked.
"Not in time for the weighing," said the falcon, shaking out his shoulders and getting ready to leave. "Miss Monster does not expect an affirmative reply. She says she will see you when she sees you."
I nodded, "Thank you, sir. Please give her my love when you return, and let her know if I don't manage to see her today, I will certainly go visit soon. Have a safe flight, sir!"
The falcon inclined his head towards me one last time, and with an enormous sweep of his amazing wings he was off. Cutie and I watched silently as he soared into the blue sky, seeming to hang suspended for a few seconds, and then the tiny dot of his figure disappeared. Phew! I didn't even realise I had been holding my breath all the time while he was here!
"Scary guy," remarked Cutie, before wandering off with a blade of grass in his mouth.
As it turned out Mr Keeper was not busy today, and was able to drive me to the Reptile Park. Big Kid wanted to come with us too, as he was a big fan of all snakes, but he had an assessment at school and Mr Keeper would not let him skip class. Mr Keeper promised to take good photos and video on the camera for him. I also promised to give his love to Monster.
During the hour-long car ride I had a quick nap, and Mr Keeper woke me up when we arrived. Since it was a Tuesday there were not as many visitors, but there were some camera crews and reporters. Looked like Monster would be on TV! Mr Keeper's family had annual passes to the Reptile Park and knew many of the staff members, and he now approached one of them to ask what was happening. After a brief discussion, she suggested that he take up a good photographing position next to the camera crew and just follow those people around, but make sure to stay behind the camera line for safety.
Before long we (well, I in Mr Keeper's backpack) and the reporters were all called in to the section of the Park called the Lost World, so that we could see Monster being carried out of her enclosure by five zookeeping staff. While she was still inside she couldn't hear me, but as soon as she came out into the open grounds, I called to her from Mr Keeper's backpack in our special serpentine language, "Monster! Monster, it's me, Banana!"
She heard me and swung her head around to give me a joyous grin - click, click, went a few of the cameras, and afterwards this moment became a photo in one of the local newspapers with the headline: "Nightmare Monster that Can Swallow You Whole!" Humans were not very good at interpreting animal expressions, I found, and tended to become quite illogical at the sight of some sharp teeth.
As her five minions struggled under her weight, Monster relaxed over their shoulders and asked how I and everyone else at the Sunny Zoo were. She loved hearing about our life at the Sunny Zoo, but said she wouldn't really want to leave the Reptile Park and live alone - after all, bi-monthly goats were a bit difficult to come by if you didn't have the right connections. I gave her updates about our family - the finches and their eggs, for example, and Algae the turtle, and oh yes, greetings from Big Kid.
The five minions huffed and puffed their way down the winding path, where five scales had been set up outside the Tasmanian Devil enclosure. "I'll be just a minute!" called Monster, as she continued to lounge over the humans' shoulders, turning her neck this way and that for the cameras. She was weighed by the five zookeepers standing on a scale each, then calling out the numbers on the scale - minus their own individual weights, I guessed. Someone added the numbers up on a calculator.
"Wow, you're 53 kilograms!" I remarked to Monster, very impressed.
"Not bad for my age," she said modestly. "I think I'll do some more climbing exercises when I get home, muscle would help me weigh heavier you know. Don't want to be all fat!"
I thought she looked fantastic already, and doubted she had an ounce of fat on her long, glistening body. Now someone else had brought out a length of string, and the humans were trying to hold it out along Monster's length to try measure it. After some struggles - keeping hold of a heavy portion of serpent while grabbing a piece of string apparently took more coordination than one might have expected - the humans eventually managed to stretch out the string from (close to) Monster's mouth to the tip of her tail. Then the length of the string itself had to be measured with a measuring tape.
"5.28 metres!" exclaimed one of the zookeepers, sounding pleased.
"Is that long for reticulated pythons?" I asked Monster. "I'm only about 80 centimetres!"
"Not bad for my age," she said again, very modestly, but she looked quite pleased. "Actually I feel a skin shedding coming on. I'll probably be a bit longer by next month. Tim says I'm still young and have a good chance of becoming the longest snake in Australia, if not the world one day!"
Wow, imagine that! She would be an international celebrity and might even be in the human Guiness World of Records! I told her she must eat more; she assured me that she had a professional dietician in charge of calculating her calories, making sure she gained length without too much unnecessary girth. And an outdoor excursion like this gave her some entertainment (as well as a chance to catch up with friends, although the humans didn't know this) so that she wouldn't be too bored in the enclosure.
All too soon the measuring process was over, all the camera crew had taken proper photographs with Monster, and sadly it was already time for Monster to head home. "Come visit again soon, Banana!" said Monster as her human minions got into comfortable lifting positions again. "You know where to find me!" she grinned.
I loved Monster, she had such a cheerful and positive personality, and was so easy to talk to. Well, the Reptile Park was one of the Keeper family's favourite places, since there were so many animals to visit, hilarious presentations from Mick the Head Ranger (I enjoyed his talks last time, although the guinea pig triplets didn't appreciate his guinea pig jokes), and lots of playground equipment for Little Kid and Baby Kid. Big Kid was bound to want to visit again soon, and I would just hitch a ride with them!
The Sunny Zoo
The animals at the Sunny Zoo enjoy their many freedoms, including having access to the Internet and a blog.
(C) The Sunny Zoo 陽光動物園 2017