The Wild Side: MD Anderson Patients Visit the Houston Zoo

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By Will Fitzgerald, MD Anderson Staff Writer

What do Valentines and chimpanzees have in common? Well, probably not much, unless a group of patients from MD Anderson's Children's Art Project (CAP) are involved.

Last week, the children were busy decorating four large heart-shaped piñatas that they later filled with treats and presented to animals at the Houston Zoo as an early Valentine's Day gift. Each piñata showcased the creative artwork from young cancer patients at MD Anderson.

On a crisp Thursday morning, with wide smiles and Valentine piñatas in hand, the children marched into the zoo's African Forest, where they would meet some new friends -- a posse of curious chimpanzees.

After getting acquainted, the zookeeper took three piñatas and filled them with figs -- the ape equivalent of warm apple pie, explained the zookeeper. Then, the children watched as each piñata was dropped into the exhibit, much to their -- and the apes' -- delight.

Before long, one ape poked his head through the Valentine, while another pushed it around like he was shoveling snow. This occurred inches away on the opposite side of a glass wall while the kids watched with pure excitement. It was clearly time away from the difficult realities of a cancer diagnosis.

The apes weren't the only inhabitants getting in on the fun. Next, the children had one final Valentine to present to some larger zoo residents -- the rhinos. The piñata was placed in the middle of the exhibit. They, too, were curious. One rhino even sent his horn right through the middle of the Valentine. 

After the rhinos were satisfied, the day ended with an opportunity to hand-feed three large giraffes. When all was said and done, each patient shared a little love, and learned a little bit about life on the wild side.

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