Lodi resident Joe Valla, 8, wasted no time marching up to a Plexi-glas container at Micke Grove Zoo and squinting at a small bag inside.
Dressed as a magician in a striped blue and yellow shirt and a top hat, he studied the bag for a few moments and then watched quietly as Aaron Morgan of the Flying Mammal Rescue gently placed the bag back into a netted animal carrier next to a strong heating lamp.
The three bats inside, peeping in high-pitched tones, broke Valla’s silence.
“So how many bats are in there, and why do they have to be next to the heat?” he asked. “And aren’t they hungry? Why won’t they come out of the bag?”
Morgan attempted to answer as many questions as possible before telling Valla he would find his answers if he stuck around a few more minutes to see Morgan’s next presentation on different kinds of bats that live in and around the San Joaquin Valley.
Valla thought for a moment, then agreed to sit by and wait.
“Even though bats are really cool, they kind of scare me a little,” he said, leaning against a table. “I am learning about them in Boy Scouts, you see. I love that they come out at night and hang upside down. I think that’s awesome.”
Valla was just one of hundreds of children to flock to Micke Grove Zoo Saturday to not only have the chance to get into the zoo for free if they were dressed up in costume, but to see presentations and exhibits that had been spooked up for Halloween.
The annual Howl-O-Ween at the zoo has been going on for some time, said event coordinator AnnaMarie Alteri. Donations from around the area have made it possible for the zoo to not only allow kids in costume to enter for free with an adult ticket purchase, but to also allow the zoo to show off its many exhibits and animals.
In addition to three bat presentations where kids and adults not only learned facts about the animals but also got to observe them, the UC Davis Raptor Center had four presentations where families were able to get up-close and personal with a barn owl, a great horned owl and a saw-whet owl.
Zookeepers were also able to entice some of the zoo’s larger animals out for public viewing by giving them special treats inside of jack-o-lanterns throughout the morning, thanks to a donation from George Perry & Sons, a farm in Manteca, Alteri said.
Monty, a 14-year-old California mountain lion, was one of handful of animals to receive a treat-filled pumpkin Saturday, known as “enrichments” by zookeepers.
A small crowd had gathered outside Monty’s exhibit as he slowly slinked out of his cage down to the pumpkin.
Children gasped and parents quickly started snapping photos as the mountain lion circled the pumpkin and sniffed it before he knocked his prize to the ground.
As he munched on his raw meat, a group of children leaned over the guard railings to get a better look.
As Monty pulled his meaty treats out of the pumpkin, an audible “Ew!” came from the kids as they squirmed back toward their parents.
“That was totally gross,” one kid said. “But totally awesome.”
Contact Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.