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Oakland Zoo celebrates National Grandparents Day

Lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) shared the spotlight with humans at the Oakland Zoo in celebration of National Grandparents Day.

On Sept. 13 the zoo, nestled in Knowland Park, offered grandparents free tickets to the train ride that circles the zoo and showcases all the animals. However, many saw the animals on foot as their eager grandchildren rushed from one animal to the next.

Zoo volunteer Cherie Bescript said she expected more people to turn out for the event. “I haven’t seen as many [grandparents] as I expected. Or maybe they’re just harder to spot!”

The elephant is by far the most popular zoo animal, Bescript said. At approximately 3:30 p.m., when it was time to feed the elephants lunch, zookeepers laid out hay and leaves in the large arena of space littered with boulders and logs. Families stood around the fence, watching the majestic Indian elephants walk around. When they curled their trunks up to stuff the leaves in their mouths, the elephants seemed to be smiling, as if to give the audience friendly assurance that they enjoyed the spotlight.

Norman Chen, who visited the zoo with his grandchildren, shared his appreciation for the zoo. “When I came here first, this was different. You would be greeted by a flock of peacocks. The scale [of the zoo] was smaller. There has been a big improvement to the zoo since then. That was 50 years ago. One thing is for sure, this will save me a trip to the African safari!”

One grandmother, Laura Brandt, brought three generations of her family to the zoo. She was accompanied by her son, her grandchild and great-grandchild. It was her first time to the zoo. “It’s nice,” she said.

In another popular part of the park, children rushed up the steps leading to the lion exhibit again and again, hoping that this time the lazy cats would rouse from sleep and show themselves. The King of Beasts was not very cooperative, and many visitors moved on to see the tigers instead. One tiger, waking from a nap in the shade, began to play with the large concrete ball perched next to a small stream.

The giraffe exhibit nearby was surrounded by art students determinedly sketching out the long-necked mammal flashing his black tongue.

When the grandparents got tired, they let the kids run wild in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo. Opened in 2005, this addition is “part zoo, part children’s museum and part playground,” according to the zoo website. It includes such delights as the Redwood Tree Slide and one of the world’s largest exhibits of endangered Malayan Fruit Bats.

The zoo also cares for less exotic animals such as a goats (part of a petting exhibit), rabbits and crocodiles.

It’s no wonder that Robert Chen, Norman Chen’s grandson, when asked what his favorite animal was, exclaimed, “I would pick five or six!”

The Oakland Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.