Wednesday, October 19, 2011

borderline awesome/traumatic childhood experience

After reading this awful news article about escaped exotic animals that were killed in Ohio, I started reflecting on my own boderline awesome/traumatic experience with an exotic animal at a young age.

My Tante Elke and Uncle Joe's daughter worked at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo when I was younger. While there, a snow leopard gave birth to a couple of cubs and she was tasked with taking one home with her for around-the-clock care. Knowing what animal enthusiasts we were, they invited us over to play with a [still very large] snow leopard cub.

Not many people can say they kicked it with a snow leopard, which is awesome. But here's the thing about snow leopard cubs: they're snow leopards. Even the babies aren't very tiny, especially when you are a 6ish-year-old girl, and this particular snow leopard was more of a pre-teen. At one point we went out in the front yard to play (which, in retrospect, must have been quite the sight for their neighbors):

Before I continue, you need to know something about me and my instincts. That Virginia earthquake that hit a few months back? We felt it at work. As soon as I realized the earth was quaking, I GTFO of my office. The same holds true elsewhere--I sense danger and I peace out.

Okay, so the borderline traumatic part? Baby leopard play is really just a training session for hunting and survival. As such, a scrawny 6ish-year-old bolting from a baby snow leopard in the front yard is destined to appear as fun practice prey. So while it was fun at first, not to mention fantastic exercise, I eventually realized mid-run that I am going to be eaten by this snow leopard if it catches me. And sure enough, it tackled me and scratched and nibbled, just not with the ferocity of an animal that hadn't eaten in a few days. But still. I mean, if you crop the picture above you see the fear:
To this day I don't like being chased. Not up stairs, not during tag. I also had a traumatic experience driving on the turnpike with an ominous looking semi that I swear was out to get me. But at least I got to play with a snow leopard. Right?

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