Wednesday, May 4, 2016

San Diego: Day 2 (part i)

{Check out this post for a recap of the first day of our girls' trip to San Diego!  And a huge thanks to my mom and sister, both excellent photographers, for the pretty pictures in this post!}

The second day of our trip began with the ultimate purpose of the trip: a visit to Nurtured by Nature.  Nurtured by Nature is a wildlife refuge operated in conjunction with the Make a Wish Foundation.  The couple who runs the refuge were as sweet as can be, and well trained in caring for exotic animals.  They are known most for the opportunity to swim with their playful and cheerful residents - Chinese small-clawed otters.  That's actually what led us to plan our trip in the first place.  I saw this video a while back and sent it to my sister - the next thing I knew, we were booking flights to San Diego and the trip was underway!

Our drive up to the refuge took us into the beautiful mountains of Southern California.  The day was a wet one, with rain coming and going throughout the day, but we enjoyed the view as the rain clouds lingered on the mountaintops.

We joined five other people for our 4-hour tour.  The fun began right away and we met so many animals!  We began with two fennec foxes first. (try saying that three times fast!)  They are the smallest canine species and are cute (and skittish) as can be.

Next up were two 8-month old otters, who were full of energy and curiosity.  The leaders sat all of us down in a heated room and let the otters roam.  I was amazed with how they never stopped moving.  They were so much fun to play with!

After my sister was in otter heaven (see above picture :) ), we got to meet our next resident - a two-toed sloth named Belt!  He was so cool.  And moved a lot faster than I thought he would.  He loved eating carrots and preferred looking at everyone upside down.  Apparently in sloth-world, upside down is rightside up.

Next up was a three-banded armadillo.  We have nine-banded armadillos here in Texas and, honestly, they are kind of pests.  But this little three-banded lady was as cute as can be!  She ran around the room like a wind-up toy.  

We headed down the hill next for a visit to Cuddles the Porcupine.  When I heard "porcupine," I envisioned something similar to a hedgehog.  Wow, was I wrong!  This guy was huge!  He was very friendly and would walk up your leg if you fed him a banana and yam.

A porcupine sheds its quills like humans shed their hair.  We found a couple of loose quills nearby.  The quill was very sharp!  Apparently, when threatened, porcupines will defend themselves by flaring out their quills behind them and backing very quickly into the threatening animal.  It sounds a bit odd but, after seeing and holding the quills, I can see how that would be incredibly painful!

After a quick break, we visited a few more animals, including a six-banded armadillo and lemurs!  The armadillo received grapes as a treat, and the lemurs loved cranberries.  The ring-tailed lemurs went nuts for them.

Our last stop before swimming with the otters were two kangaroos.  We were very surprised to learn that kangaroos are actually not very intelligent.  Our instructions before entering their enclosure were as follows: "Kangaroos aren't very smart.  They can only process one thing at a time.  So if they start boxing you, the only way to get them to stop is to give them food.  So here are a bunch of bananas."  Or something like that ;).  They were actually very sweet and calm.  Their fur felt like velvet!

The last stop on our tour was a dip in the pool with six otters.  I didn't take any photos, as the owners informed us that phones and cameras would make for perfect otter toys in the pool.  But we had a great time!  We spent about 45 minutes in the pool while the otters played around us.  They loved marbles, so we had a fun game of collecting marbles for the otters, who took them out of our hands and tried to put them down our swimsuits.  It was hilarious.  They made the sweetest little chirping / squeaking noises, and were very affectionate with the owners.  They loved to rest on our shoulders and would wrestle each other over and on top of us.  There was so much energy in that pool!  It was a blast.

I know that's a lot of wildlife to swallow, so I'll leave the rest of Day 2 for another post.  We had so much fun at Nurtured by Nature and were so pleased to see the animals cared for and loved by the owners so well.  It was an incredible memory.

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