Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Here's an interesting little oddity; a post from a Detroit blogger about the desolate "zoo" on Belle Isle, a vacant monument to the greed and corruption of former Mayor Kilpatrick's Boss Tweed Period.

I admit to being seduced by the title: "Where the Wild Things Aren't".

But also because I have a long-standing hate-hate relationship with zoos.

I was never a particularly zoo-ey child. My only real - and fondest - memory of the old Brookfield Zoo in Chicago (the first I was old enough to visit and recall anything of the occasion as well as where I spent my life from fifth grade through high school, i.e. prime zoo-going yers) was watching a baboon take a break from masturbating (hobby, pastime and preoccupation of the savagely bored male primate) to scoop up a fresh handful of used Monkey Chow and nail a capering high school mouthbreather right in the neck as a tribute to the hairless ape's baboon imitation. At seven the pure ThreeStoogian elegance, the primal sophistication of the poop-flinging baboon entranced me, and baboons in general have remained a special favorite of mine as a result.By the time I was old enough to really see the animals as more than live-action kids' story figures I was also savvy enough to interpret the many sad pathologies of zoo animal behavior; the pacing, weaving, obsessive grooming, and self-mutilating as strong indications that the supposedly heartwarmingly child-friendly zoo was just a goddam prison for many of the animals there.
(Curious sidebar: several years ago I read two short books by someone called Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, one on the social behavior of dogs, the other on similar activities among cats. These were more aimed at pet owners than zoo animal fanciers, but Thomas' interest in cats was heavily slanted towards lions and tigers. One thing she had researched, and noted in her book, was the behaviors of zoo cats versus circus cats. She observed that, for all the horror and obloquy directed at circus cat-trainers and cat handlers, the circus cats generally appeared much less stressed, displayed MUCH less disturbed behavior such as pacing and swaying than the zoo cats. Her conclusion? That despite the tiny cages and lack of "natural habitat" the circus cats had a more interesting life. They interacted with each other and with the circus people. They had jobs; they were working stiffs, they had a point to their lives. The zoo cats were convicts; idle, closely confined, unoccupied prisoners and typically bored out of their skulls.)
Now I have a little boy who loves the zoo. Not for the animals, really, the train and the sandbox and the treats are the real magilla - but the animals are an inseparable part of the full meal deal. He has no idea that I think the zoo is an animal prison, and I don't want to be the one to tell him.

So I grimace at the tiger, numbly pacing its cage, as we race by on the way to ride Old Smokey the train. Sorry, pal, maybe the governor'll spring yez soon. Maybe youse need to see Da Warden.

Maybe you should try flinging a big ol' tiger poop at the dummy in the plaid shorts making roaring sounds at you from over by the popcorn trolley.

It seemed to work for the baboon.


walternatives said...

the constant preoccupation of the savagely bored primates... This line made laugh as I instantly pictured some men (and boys) that I've known...

Maia said...

I read the same thing about Elephants- the circus elephants are much healthier and happier than the zoo ones.

Red Sand said...

I think I'm happy that we are several provinces away from any zoo. So hard to watch, after the initial wonder of seeing animals that you'd only ever heard of. Plus they now bring to mind Life of Pi, which I was unable to finish after the lifeboat scene.

FDChief said...

W: The truth we ate to admit to you is that we've never descended very far from our hominid ancestors. Ook eek!

M: I understand that too. Elephants are a special case, though, apparently, since what harms them in both settings is foot and leg problems from standing on hard surfaces for long times. I understand that people who know about elephants discourage captivity because the area the animals need to live well is so large.

RS: Sounds appropriately grim, though I missed the movie. I don't have a problem ignoring zoos, generally, even close by, but for little Peep. I hope to help him understand about the zoo animals without shoving the ugly in his face...

sheerahkahn said...

"Maybe you should try flinging a big ol' tiger poop at the dummy in the plaid shorts making roaring sounds at you from over by the popcorn trolley."

You'll get a kick out of this Chief.
Sometimes the looney toon gets to make fun of the tiger, sometimes the tiger gets to eat the looney toon.

note the operative, and may I be so bold, Darwinian phrase

"An empty vodka bottle found in the boys' car seems to imply they were having at least a slightly illicit good time and might have been operating under less than perfect judgment."

Not that I endorse this outcome in favor of the tiger. No, I'm just saying that sometimes common sense seems to flee people who, if in the habitat of the creature, would take due precaution and heed their common sense.
But be that as it may, I would like to point out one key thing about animals...permit me to channel Chris Rock here.

When a tiger in zoo mauls a zoo keeper, or when he leaps a fence, and goes hunting for humans who moments before were taunting it, the tiger didn't go crazy from being locked up. He didn't go crazy for being caged either.

The tiger did what all tigers do when opporutnity bears it's throat to went tiger on the sap who should've heeded the voice of reason screaming in their skull!

atomic mama said...

Same here. With rare exception hate zoos. Boy loves 'em. I was actually soon going to post a couple of disturbing zoo pix from a recent trip to the Audubon Zoo. Great apes and elephants, depressed and self-soothing. Wicked sad stuff.

FDChief said...

Sheerah: I saw that news item, and, yeah, my sympathies were for the tiger, frankly. ISTM that she was performing the valuable service of vacuuming the shallow end of the gene pool.

AM: Interestingly enough, the one zoo-ish sort of place that I do enjoy is your Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. And part of what I like about it is that they have largely avoided the large-animal exhibits, the elephants, felids and the other "zoo-ey" African savannah animals. The bighorns and the cougars probably shouldn't be there, but generally I don't have problems with the smaller animals, birds and reptiles if they have enough space, as they pretty much seemed to have at the ASDM.

Hopefully I will be able to explain my discomfort with the captive animals to the Peep and little Miss while at the same time exciting his love for the wild things where they belong, in their wild places.

Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing the poignant Detroit piece. What a sack of garbage is disgraced mayor Kilpatrick.

What a sad world where we expedite the extinction of so many species on a daily basis. Where captive breeding may be the only hope for survival for so many others, and like those who escape the throngs via helicopter in the Dead movie -- where will they live?

Zoos are usually sad places. People and animals (redundancy) must have wholesome purposes, lest they go mad. Why don't we honor these understandings?

As Estragon says in waiting for Godot, people are bloody ignorant apes.

FDChief said...

Lisa: Zoos always strike me as a sad sort of analog for the way we middle-class Americans treat almost anything we want. We throw "just enough" money at it so WE feel comfortable as long as we don't squint and look too closely at it. So we get zoos that are unhealthy and painful for the animals but bright, cheerful and attractive for the humans. Or we get inner-city (i.e. black) schools that are just not-bad-enough to avoid being blackboard-jungle type Dickensian horrors. Or we get roads, bridges and other public facilities that don't quite fall apart underneath us.

But the idea that we might not want to buy another couple of billions worth of "Homeland Security" or F-35 JSFs so we can get EVERY kid a truly outstanding education? Or build a zoo that treats the animals with as much or more respect than the people?


Lisa said...

Interesting you say, "middle-class" Americans. In our classist society, I think everyone sees only within their own fence. Certainly the upper castes are as guilty. We do not see a world, but our world, with its attendant needs.

I don't know that most people feel a sense of sorrow with the misfortunes of their fellows. Maybe a "too bad" sort of thing, but I do think there is a greedy, thankful impulse of "more for me" if someone else gets knocked out of contention. It's instinctual.

wzgirl said...

Yea, add me to the list of zoo-haters. I also dislike birdcages. You, too? Just a guess.

Have you see this blog, Chief?

Good to see you're still blogging with a passion. Thanks for that wee bit on the Salsa Twins - I missed it. Too funny! Hugs to you & the other 3 at the homestead! xo

FDChief said...

Wzgirl: hugs back. Hope you're feling closer and getting a bit of the fever again...