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LOU'S L.A. ZOO'S OWN DR. DOOLITTLE.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

Funny how things work out, Lou Parker says. If he hadn't listened to his wife Ada's advice and called Bernie, who knows what he'd be doing today?

Probably still loafing around the house driving Ada crazy.

But he did call his pal Bernie, and look at him now more than 20 years later -- the Dr. Doolittle of docents at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Spinning his magic stories about the biomes -- major ecological communities -- of the world to schoolchildren from all over the city who are eating it up and writing him letters like this:

"I don't think I would have such a fun time learning about the four biomes and their animals without your biofacts," wrote Julien Piltzer from Balboa Magnet School.

"It would never be as fun if Ms. Donson was teaching us with no biofacts whatsoever. PS -- don't tell Ms. Donson."

It's honest feedback like that -- from hundreds of children who have written him over the years -- that earned Lou his Dr. Doolittle title and a certificate of appreciation from the Mayor's Office at a recent L.A. Zoo awards luncheon.

Not bad for an 89-year-old retired pharmaceutical company manager who didn't have a clue what he was going to do with the rest of his life when he retired in 1983.

"I was loafing around the house and Ada suggested I find something to do before she killed me," Lou was saying Friday as he watched another school bus filled with kids pull up in front of the zoo.

"I said, 'What can I do?' She suggested I call my pal Bernie, who was already a docent at the zoo. But what did I know about zoos? As a kid growing up in Cleveland, I had never been inside a zoo."

But he did like animals. That was a start. With a little training, a few months later Lou was standing in the zoo's parking lot in his safari jacket waiting for the next school bus filled with kids to pull up for a tour.

It turned out to be a kick, he says. The animals did all the work. He just did a little talking about them, a little teaching.

It was obvious Lou had a knack for this volunteer job that draws a lot of retired men, says Franchine Klein, head of docents at the zoo.

"You only hear good things about Lou. The kids absolutely love him. He puts on his safari jacket and leads them through a fascinating world most of them have never known before.

"He has this love of animals and people, and a wonderfully cute and warm way about him, sharing information and teaching," she said.

When a mobile zoo was started to bring small animals to elementary schools to reach kids who might not get a chance to visit the zoo, it was Lou who was picked to take it around the city.

And when the zoo began its "Biomes of the World" presentation to help kids learn the interrelationship between plants and animals and their natural surroundings, it was Lou who made the commitment to visit their classrooms four days in a row to give them all those fun biofacts.

"I learned that polar bears don't hibernate, and permafrost never melts," wrote Erika Lohde. "I learned that when you talked about the Arctic tundra.

"When you talked about the desert, I learned that it can snow in a certain desert but I can't remember the name, so I guess I'll have to look it up.

"Thank you for taking your time and spending it to teach us instead of doing something else."

Yep, best advice he ever got, Lou says. Listening to Ada and calling Bernie.

For information on becoming a volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo, call (323) 644-4703 or e-mail

volunteers(at)lazoo.org.

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3749

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Photo:

Lou Parker is one of the oldest docents at the Los Angeles Zoo.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 8, 2007
Words:669
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