Behind-the-scenes: Visiting the Oakland Zoo was so cheerful it converted me forever

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- In all honesty, I've always thought zoos were a little sad. Looking at animals in captivity didn't really feel like a chipper way to spend a weekend. But after a year of feeling much like an animal in captivity, I was open to letting the Oakland Zoo prove me wrong.

(If you can't tell by the headline of this story, they did.)

The zoo took me behind the scenes to show us some of their most curious creatures up close. After about a year of COVID-forced closures, I wanted to check and see how the animals were coping with reopening to the public. It turned out they were as eager to see people again as I am.

See the full behind-the-scenes tour in our first episode of Bay Area Insider above.

My first stop on the tour, the camel enclosure, didn't sound so exciting at first. But it took about five seconds for the camels to win me over. They love to eat, they can be sweet but they can also be sassy -- especially when hungry. All very relatable qualities. I was charmed.

RELATED: Oakland Zoo to start vaccinating their most at-risk animals for COVID-19 this summer

Next up was another hungry bunch: the giraffes. I met the dad of the bunch Mabusu, whose name means "kisses" in Swahili. (When you see his tongue in the video up top, that name will make a lot of sense.) There was also his daughter Maggie and the newest member of the Oakland Zoo giraffe family, Kijiji. Kijiji is young and still has lots of playful energy. We caught her spraying a group of visitors with water just for fun.

The third stop was the baboon exhibit -- a place you don't actually want to be inside when the baboons are there. I was inside as zookeepers hid veggies, seeds and other treats all around the exhibit. The zookeeper gave us the two-minute warning and I got out of there before they unleashed the beasts, who went on a mad search for each and every snack hidden around the exhibit.

I then took the gondola to the upper part of the zoo, where my last stop involved watching a mountain lion training. The keepers train the mountain lions to follow targets and show their paws, not because it's impressive, but because it makes veterinary treatment possible without tranquilizers.

MORE: Oakland Zoo reopens with new COVID-19 changes following lifting of statewide stay-at-home order

Riding back down the gondola, I was already thinking of coming back with my 18-month-old niece. I hadn't been to the zoo since a college anthropology assignment forced me to stare at monkeys for two hours. Now I was planning to go back twice in one month. A few hours at the zoo and I had been fully converted.

If you can't make it to the Oakland Zoo, I hope this video lets you in on the fun. Check it out at the top of this story.

The Oakland Zoo is reopened for visitors by reservation only during the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks are required. Make a reservation and buy tickets on the zoo's website.
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