The Lions Down the Street


My sister lives up the road from Space Farms, a small local zoo. She says she hears the lions roaring at dinnertime.  I was with my niece and nephew yesterday, and they hadn’t been to the zoo in a while.  Izzy, my niece, really wanted to go. I was a bit reluctant, because, to be honest, I just think the place is overpriced for what it is.  Most of it consists of wildlife you can hit with your car around here, and any sense of landscape design seems to be non-existent.  It’s pretty much like, Oh look, some goats and deer behind some chicken wire fencing. Woo hoo! But they do host Goliath, the largest bear ever held in captivity. Okay, never mind that he’s the star of their taxidermy exhibit, being as he died in 1991, but whatever. A twelve-foot high stuffed bear is still impressive.  Those claws are looong.

But I digress.

The zoo does have a few good animals—a black panther and some cute lemurs and monkeys.  It’s also a way to get kids out of the house on a nice afternoon, so why not? Off we went.

I didn’t even intend to bring a camera because I’ve made many zoo trips in my life, and guess what—you come back with pictures of animals.  I realized after going through old boxes of photos that picking up a random photo of a monkey cage didn’t come to mean much.  I would ask my husband, “Was this the Philadelphia Zoo or that one in Washington, DC?” In the end, the best answer was, “Does it really matter?” If I want a photo of a monkey or a cute little prairie dog, there are plenty of places I can find one. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am an animal lover. Truly. But photos are best when they capture moments, and, even with loved ones in the picture, zoo photos just don’t seem to cut it for me.

My favorite and most vivid zoo memory was watching polar bears at the Philadelphia Zoo. The exhibit was designed so that visitors could see the bears both above and below water, and it was one of those rare times when they were active and swimming. To see these beautiful, massive creatures lumber onto rocks and then dive into the water with a grace that defied their enormity was truly magnificent.

Even if I had a video or a picture, it would not have done the memory justice.  Some moments are better saved in our minds to be brought out and savored when we’re in need of a quiet smile or a shared laugh.

But, again, I digress.

Anyway, it just so happened I had our point-and-shoot in the diaper bag, so I snapped a few photos trying to capture those “moments” and not just the animals and doing a fairly lousy job of it.

Then we got to the lion’s cage, and I was sort of glad I had the camera. Now, I know zoo animals get fed, of course, but when it’s feeding time for the lions, I had always imagined the zookeepers throwing the big guys a few steaks, or maybe a side of beef. You know, something you’d see in the grocery store. I never imagined watching feeding time for the lion would look like, well, this:

I mean, do you see the blood? Do you see the hoof? Now, I am really not squeamish about these kinds of things. I know it’s the circle of life and all. Hell, I grew up with a hunter dad who often had his latest kill hanging in the garage. I just thought it was pretty darn wild (and the pun here was just a happy accident).

I relayed the story to my sister when we got home, and she explained to me that the zoo actually has a contract with the county to pick up road kill to feed to some of the zoo animals (which, when you think about it, actually makes perfect sense).

But I quietly wondered if such a scene could scar certain onlookers. I was secretly relieved that my toddler was too busy trying to get to the swings on the playground down the hill to really take in the scene.  I just imagined the conversation going something like, “Wha’ happen, Mommy? Ly-lon have boo boo?”

“No honey, that’s not a boo boo. That’s just dinner.”

Yep, a photo of my little girl with tear-filled saucer eyes in front of this lion’s cage? Now that would have been a moment.


  1. Lisa Kelly says:

    Well I am a little scarred from that photo. I think a big warning like “Don’t scroll below if you are squeamish.”

    I anxiously await your posts and am truly excited when I come in to a notice that there is one. This morning I could have used a little warning!


  2. Helenie says:

    Oh HELL, guts & gore… if you are a mother, you’ve seen the most disgusting things anyone could ever see. For me, the carnage in your photo was no better or worse than some vomit I’ve had to clean up!!!!!


  3. Irene Landon says:

    having lived here for 35 years I have been to Space Farms innumerable times….I hate it. It is a horrid zoo. That being said, what people often don’t know or don’t take advantage of is the little out buildings of antique stuff. It is truly interesting. There are toys, farm equipment, furniture, modes of transport, etc. More worth seeing than those poor caged animals. Actually, not being squeamish, because, as Helena says, I’ve cleaned up enough vomit, poop, etc. from children and animals to set that aside, I think the lion eating is probably the most interesting thing to see. And as Lee Ann said, it is road kill…at least its life had a purpose!


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