Aaron R. Davis
One of the joys of my life has consistently been the zoo. I love the zoo. I love animals, I love overpriced park food, and I … well, no, I hate walking, but my wife loves the zoo, too, so we try to get out there at least once a year and have some fun.
But, over the past couple of years, it seems like the zoo has become less fun. Walking around the place and hitting the usual spots that we always just had to hit, it seems like the zoo is, I don’t know … thinning out.
Let me take you through our latest journey.
It starts with a brisk walk through the hoofed animal area, which also includes camels, which technically are not hoofed but really have no other place to fit in. They’re like the refugees of the large mammal world and the hoofed animals were kind enough to let them in. Anyway, they’re Bactrian camels, so fuck them.
(I should mention here that I have really weird animal prejudices. You know what I love? Dromedary camels — the kind with only one hump. The zoo used to have Dromedaries when I as a kid. Now they just have these hairy, two-humped, smug show-off Bactrian camels, and I just can’t bring myself to care. I know, I’m quirky. No, wait not quirky. What word do I want here? Oh, right: ridiculous.)
Okay, well, at least I get to see some bison, but we’re starting off slow, because zebras and all that jazz are boring. So we head around to the African animals and watch the giraffes, which is pretty cool, then check out the new wolf habitat and end up in the corner looking at penguins. Penguins are currently the overrated attention whores of the animal world thanks to a string of movies like Madagascar and March of the Penguins (see, animals are proof that God exists and so does romance!), so naturally the penguin house is loaded with kids. That’s a big problem with the zoo: kids love it, so they are everywhere, and it never stops being annoying.
Anyway, the zoo never has emperor penguins anymore like it did when I was a kid, so I can only look at these things for so long before moving on to reptiles (never not cool), perched birds (which look at you like they’re plotting all kinds of revenge) and the centerpiece of every zoo trip, the masturbating baboons. Doesn’t matter when you show up or not, baboons are going to masturbate and some woman is going to freak out in a way that implies that animals should have better manners, and some idiot schoolchildren are going to laugh like the burbling morons they are because they saw an animal touching its penis. The zoo says a lot about human nature …
Here’s another giant disappointment: where are the orangutans? I always like to go and look at the apes, but we’ve got some problems with this set-up. First of all, there are fewer monkeys and gibbons than ever, and that just kind of sucks. It’s a habitat for apes and monkeys; it should be teeming with life. Instead it’s the quietest I’ve ever heard the place. I remember that this house used to have screeches bouncing off the walls. Now it’s like a tea party in here. (The genteel English kind, not the sub-moron patriot cosplay gatherings where people pretend they’ve read the Constitution — that’s a different kind of monkey.) Second of all, we’ve never had chimpanzees, and I would like to know why not. I’ve never seen one of those things in a zoo … are they too busy being experimented on? I don’t think NASA uses them anymore, but maybe I’m wrong. Third, how about some dang orangs? They used to be there, an entire family of them, mostly just sleeping. Then they started to disappear one by one. I remember this old guy who would get shy and hide when people were looking at him. He was magnificent. But now: nothing. Empty. Quiet. Eerie … Did they all die off and you just never told anyone? Because that would be sad and really creepy: “Zoo covers up gradual deaths of entire orangutan clan.”
At least all of the gorillas are still there. They’re wonderful.
So to recover from all of that, and still with full hearts from watching gorillas play and be majestic, we watch the big cats for a while — it always makes you feel special and full and completely terrified if the lions roar — and then look at bears. My wife loves bears, but I basically look at them as the sharks of the land. Supposedly, there are black bears roaming south into northern Illinois, which is where I live, and I don’t want to have to worry about black bears when I’m heading out to the car to go and pick up library books! (Which is not to imply that black bears aren’t just as good as white bears, of course; I’m sure one would maul me, rip off my head and drink my blood as well as the other. I’m no bear racist the way I’m a camel racist.) Either way, I read too many of my Dad’s issues of Outdoor Life as a kid to not think of bears as being born with an inherent need to kill me. Yes, me specifically.
Alright, alright, time to look at dolphins (yeah, they’re magical, but in a completely predictable way — attention hogs) and then pinnipeds. I loves me some pinnipeds (walruses and seals). This is another place where my weird animal prejudices kick in. Seals? Meh. They’re cute, I guess. Sea lions? Where do I sign up! I can watch the sea lions swim and joke and play and slide up on land looking to be fed for literally an entire hour. Those guys make me happy as hell. Seals? Yeah, they’re okay, but can they record a hit song like “Crazy” or “Kiss from a Rose”? Now that’s an impressive Seal.
It’s also another disappointment, though, because the walruses are gone, and I don’t know why. There’s no explanation. Where are the damn walruses? I love walruses so much, and they are nowhere to be found. Bad enough this whole section of the zoo seems so eerily quiet, but there are no walruses, either? What a let-down.
Alright, I can get over this, because I’ve saved my two favorites for last.
First, it’s time to hit the dark house with the creatures of the Australian night. Yeah, yeah, wombats are adorable and that ill-tempered owl is kind of cool, but I’m specifically here for the fruit bats. They have a room with fruit bats flying free and it’s so cool when they glide over the walkway, because as animals go, fruit bats are outstanding. Sorry, no pussies in here, this is for brave people who love bats.
That’s right, in the quest to make the world a less magical place because wimps keep breeding, great places like zoos are caving in and doing things like, say, putting up a wire fence to keep fruit bats from flying over the walkway.
Seriously, zoo? Seriously, wimps? I am disappoint.
Another fun experience gone because people complained about being scared of an animal that doesn’t have any interest in hurting human beings. It’s not like you had to swim to the other side while an alligator was chasing you. If you didn’t want to see fruit bats fly around you, you didn’t have to go inside. Seems logical to me. The problem is the parents of the world aren’t logical. The parents of the world are the kind of people who want to shut down adult bookstores because some kid could potentially walk inside one day, never acknowledging that it’s their job to keep their own kids out of it. False analogy? Probably, but I’m really disappointed that we’re still covering everything in bubble wrap because some eight month-old somewhere might have an unpleasant afternoon, and then where would we be? I want my fruit bat experience, your kid be damned (which he probably will be without responsible parenting.)
Anyway, this all could have been salved by my final stop: the pachyderm house. Because pachyderms are my absolute favorite animals on this planet. No animal brings me joy the way hippos, rhinos, and … elephants … oh, right. We have no more elephants. The last elephant we had went off to some breeding program or something, and now this zoo is completely bereft of elephants. My favorite animal. A zoo without my favorite animal …
I just want to go home.
Also, the thinning out of zoo animals makes me wonder if I should worry about what the three hot dogs I ate are made from …
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.