A Political Fable From a Small Urban Zoo

One day a mother took her two children to a small urban zoo. 
The zoo was getting crowded– it had, in fact, been around for quite some time, and was built back in the days when people used to dismiss or marginalize the amazing creatures inside.  It was growing now, in leaps and bounds, and the habitats were becoming much more humane.
That being said, there was some difficulties deciding exactly how to make the zoo grow, without displacing any of the inhabitants, and allowing everybody to benefit from the revenues brought in by happy people who saw happy animals in a controlled circumstance.  
The mother and her progressive children (note the young boy carrying his stuffed animals in the Baby Bjorn and the young girl who also wants to grow up to be a zookeeper) observed the animals as they visited.  
Some of the animals simply shook their rattles and glared balefully, hissing and daring anybody to encroach upon their 2×2 space.  The mother grabbed her babies and hustled them past those animals.  They were welcome to their tiny cages, but their venom was frightening, and she didn’t put it past them not to try to sneak out and get her.  (She may have been a bit paranoid about this– she is willing to admit it.)

 Some of the animals sat in groups, chattering meaninglessly, and crapping where they stood.

They were very pretty there, chatting and crapping, but, the little boy noted, that did not change the fact that their little enclosure was covered in poo and they did not get anything accomplished.

The little girl thought they should fly.

The little boy thought they should fly too.  Their mother pointed out that it’s easy to cast judgments on pink flightless birds, but that the birds’ wings had all been clipped.  Part of this situation was what came from clipping their wings and forcing them to live in a very small enclosure.

Both children thought that sucked, but that didn’t stop them from hypothesizing what it would be like to fly.  It didn’t stop them from wanting to be kangaroos, either, but then, that’s what zoos are for.
There were birds at the zoo–horn bills and emus and ostriches, who all paraded around very full of themselves and tried to look important.  The children were very impressed, especially because the eggs these birds laid were so very odd. 
Mom said that odd eggs were okay– they often grew up to odd offspring, and she was fond of those, but not to be too impressed with exotic plumage and perfect predatory posture.  Those birds, she said, neither built nor hunted nor dug.  They were really just good for eating.  
The children said that if mom ever cooked them an emu burger, they’d leave home.  Mom said that since she wasn’t in the habit of poaching emu from the local emu farm, they were probably safe, and they moved on to the next enclosures.

The next set of enclosures were the predatory feline enclosures.

The snow leopard was sitting in the shade, ignoring all the hubub over larger enclosures.  Snow leopards are like that when there is no snow.  They are fairly sure the world has nothing to do with them when it doesn’t look like they think it should.

The lion had one of the best enclosures.  He got to sun himself on a rock all day.  He didn’t know why people gave him the best things.  His lionesses didn’t know why they got the best things.  They yawned and showed their teeth and went to sleep.  They slept sixteen hours a day.  People came and admired them as they slept, and that brought revenue to the zoo, and that got them the best spot in the house.  It wasn’t fair, but there you are.  Some people can get paid to sleep.  That’s life.

The tiger isn’t pictured here.  The tigers were very beautiful, and the zoo built an even better enclosure for them, but tigers are actually very private animals.  They did not want the better enclosure.  They did not want an enclosure at all.  They wanted to be left the fuck alone, but, given that they were one of the zoo’s main attractions, that wasn’t going to happen.  So the tigers paraded around a couple of times a day for form’s sake, and then went and sulked in their caves and dreamt of being alone in a deserted jungle, with plentiful prey, no hunters, and the occasional film crew to reassure them that their lives had meaning.
This is a margay.  Margay’s do nothing but nap in the dappled sun and/or clean themselves, while people with bad vision and prescription sunglasses try to see them in the shadows.  Doesn’t he look like a peaceful little guy?  Watch out if you try to pet him– that margay will take your hand off at the shoulder, lick the blood off his whiskers and go back to sleep.  The zoo loves him.  He needs very little in the way of enclosure, and one small child surreptitiously fed to him on the sly every couple of months keeps his predatory nature in check.  Lots of people come to see the margay.  He has no problem with that. 
This is the giraffe.  The giraffe, too, has a special enclosure made.  When asked by the other animals why the giraffe must be so tall that this special treatment is warranted, the giraffe looks at them in annoyance.  “It is not my fault I am this tall,” she says.  “I reached high to feed myself and my family.  We wanted very badly to survive.  You cannot hold survival against an herbivore–it goes against nature.”  Some of the animals grumbled about this, but since the carnivores had their own cages, there was really nothing to be done.
These are the warthogs.  They really had not much to say, and their enclosures were a little small, but really?  The warthogs don’t like to complain.  They sat and watched the comings and goings at the zoo, somewhere between the herbivores, the predators, and the primates, and made comments to each other but did not get involved.  Warthogs are personable, but they are not political–however, I suspect that would change if anyone tried to make their enclosure smaller.  In general, the children and mom agreed that you don’t fuck with the warthogs, you just nodded, smiled, and kept them caught up with the news.
And, of course, anything with long legs and horns needed to approach carefully.  Those creatures go bounding off into the savannah with graceful leaps, and are never heard from again.  Either that, or their enclosures (or their flesh) is devoured by the predatory cats.  They are–quite understandably–skittish.  
But that leads us to the primate enclosures.  
Now, we could hear the primates all across the zoo.  What we heard was these guys, the lemurs and the gibbons.  They were screeching and swinging and throwing poo.  
The children thought that was fantastic– omigod!  Poo-throwing-monkeys!  Have you ever seen something that entertaining?  They laughed and laughed, and mom stood back and grimaced.  “They’re sort of gross,” she said, reluctant to stomp on a good show with common sense.  “They say they’re protesting enclosures, but… but look around you!  Don’t you see better examples?”
The children did.  

 First there were the orangutans.

The orangutans were powerful and angry.  They did not shriek and they did not throw poo.  They had been insulted by their enclosures, and were burning with the black passion of a thousand sins.  They wanted people to understand what they had done.  They wanted the world to understand the wrongs that had been perpetrated upon the primate races–nay, upon vertebrates around the world –by the thoughtless governance of an ignorant zookeeping society.

Mom told the children to respect their principles and emulate their self-containment–but not to try to be too much like them.

Holding that much deep anger for so long has a horrible, horrible price, as you can see in the drooping eyes of the orangutan idol that the children worshipped.  The children consoled the orangutan idol with deep respect, but they said that mom was right.  You should never be that angry for so long, even if the cause is righteous and just.

 After the orangutans, there came the chimpanzees.  The chimpanzees were caught napping, but when they awoke, and realized that the zoo was all in an uproar about enclosure space, they did the reasonable thing.  They groomed and conferred.  The grooming was good–for one thing, it meant they had a snack before the discussion, and this, as anyone will tell you, is simply good management.  It also reinforced their sense of community.  They were in their little enclosure together, right?  All of the zoo animals were in this together.  They needed to decide upon an action plan and then manipulate the other animals into cooperating.

As mom and children left, mom heard them bemoaning the fact that the other zoo animals never wanted to cooperate, and that maybe, they could just make some unilateral decisions to save time and to keep the entire zoo to sinking into a backbiting morass that accomplished jack diddly squat.  The children thought that this was mean– all the animals should have a say.

Mom said yes, all the animals should have a say, and maybe the chimps were being big dicks about this whole thing, but that really, who could blame them?  If all the other animals were going to do was sleep in the sun, hide in their caves, or bitch and throw poo, why wouldn’t the big monkeys think it was okay to be dicks when they were trying to solve a problem?

The children said that made sense, and then they asked mom which animal she would be.

She said that she wanted to be the margay, because she would love to lie in the shade and eat people who annoyed her and piss to mark her territory and have people think she was beautiful.

The children said she was a good mommy and too nice to be a margay, so she tried again.

She said she was probably the warthog– she was personable and she didn’t like to take sides, just don’t fuck with her cage.  (She didn’t say “fuck” in front of the children.  She was a good mommy, and saved her potty mouth for snarky blog posts.)

The children said that wasn’t a very attractive option either.

Mom said, “Well, there are no attractive options when everybody in the zoo is fighting each other instead of trying to make the zoo a bigger place for everybody, are there?”

The children said no, and it was a lot easier to laugh at the poo-throwing-monkeys than it was to come up with a solution.

Mom said, “That’s what’s wrong with politics on a global scale, my children.  Do you want to ride the carousel and buy stupid crap in the gift shop?”

Because she was a wise mom, and knew sometimes distraction from the problem really was the only good solution.

And so she bought stuffed animals, and backpacks, and binoculars, and a pretty scarf, and they came home for snacks.

0 thoughts on “A Political Fable From a Small Urban Zoo”

  1. You know how animals are, they can't decide on anything.

  2. Wow I'm slow. I was thoroughly enjoying your snarky zoo story and thinking how much I love your writing and your wit as usual, then about three quarters of the way through I realized what it was about! I think as a reader I've picked the best authors to be fans of. They're exhibiting class with humor…and their talent makes them rise above the rest. Thank you Amy!

  3. roxie says:

    "They tell me it's all happening at the zoo. I do believe it. I do believe it's true. It's a lightsome tumble journey from the east side to the park, just a fine and fancy ramble to the zoo. But you can take a crosstown bus if it's raining or it's cold, and the animals will love it if you do. . . . Antelopes are missionaries, Zebras are reactionaries, the elephants are kindly but they're dumb. Orangutangs are skeptical of changes in their cages and the zookeeper is very fond of rum . . ."

    Oh, Art and Paul, how much I've forgotten of your poetry.

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