We Are Not Your Furry Friends

Geez. Today’s urban hike was in no way a disaster, but if you’re going to tromp three and a half miles to your destination, that endpoint should probably not be the zoo, at least not

1) if it’s a weekend;
2) if you’re uncomfortable at best with swarms of human young;
3) if you’re unable to find acceptable the sight of young couples technically walking together, but relating only to their smartphones; and
4) if emotions of both the sad and angry kind are awakened at the sight of animals who should be out hunting, running, and flying
        a. confined to small enclosures with fake rocks and gaudily painted
        b. being taunted and yelled at both by toddlers and grown men with beer (*)

I understand the pedagogical intentions behind at least some zoo justifications; I mean, who could argue with kids getting to know something about their world? Books and videos will only go so far, it’s true. And maybe there are some animals so close to extinction that keeping them alive means keeping them out of their native environments. But… I realize I’m making a tired case here, but there’s just something wrong with a big badass lion munching on an unfrozen flank of something that’s been thrown to him on a concrete floor.

When not ripping carrion tendons, the vulture seemed to ask whether he really needed to put up with this much longer. Julius Rückert on Wikimedia Commons.

When not ripping carrion tendons, the vulture seemed to ask whether he really needed to put up with this much longer.
Julius Rückert on Wikimedia Commons.

Anyway. I didn’t have the heart to stay very long, so my impressions of the fauna were limited, especially since I went straight for the birds, and just couldn’t take much more thereafter.** Here, then, are the conversation bubbles I envisioned coming from some of their heads.

From the Blyth’s hornbill pair in their little room: We are impressive hoppers. I doubt any of you could hop so grandly.

From the bald eagle: I am huge. Do not mess with me. And oh yeah, guy with the beer? Your idiot attempts at bird calls don’t even merit disdain.

From the cinereous vulture, who looks like a mangy-headed old dame with a still-fantastic fur collar: Grumble, grumble, mumble, grumble.

From the spotted dikkop: I’m cuddly, but I didn’t ask for this.

From the Guam Micronesian kingfishers: Just trying to deal here. We’ll mask our nervousness by being as still and round as possible.

But the probable summation of most of the zoo’s inhabitants comes from the zebra, viz., fuck you; I’m gonna stand here.

And so, after breaking in my new shoes (complete with a blood-soaked Achilles area), I arrived home, glad to hide from humanity for a while and ready to delve further into the two books I’ve started: Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (transl. Tiina Nunnally) and Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment (because it’s never to late to make up for things you should’ve read at the beginning of grad school). Any zoo thoughts, and/or personal experience of what animals have tried to say to you, are more than welcome.


* Who decided it would be a good idea to sell alcohol at a zoo? It’s as if you’re just aching for some sort of post-fence-jumping disemboweling to occur.

** Incidentally, I once dated a guy who was afraid of birds, of all sorts. I never got an explanation of this phobia, but I wonder if it had something to do with precisely why I like them: they seem unapologetic about the opinions they hold, and with their eyes more or less on the sides of their heads, seem able both to see right into your soul and to stare you down to let you know they know.



  1. Kinga

    Cool stuff, K. I am especially amused by the spotted dikkop comment. imagine a series of these in a compilation of writings ‘from a visit to …’ – cause I know there’s more where that came from!


    • Special K

      Thanks! There is definitely more where that came from; among other things, I forgot to let the kookaburra have his say, fascinated as I was by his stylish, flat beak. Very basically, I think it was just, “Ha!”


  2. josefina

    I welcome the idea of making robots that behave and look like animals, and put them on display so kids can play with them, or have people-actors dressed up like other kinds of animals so that kids can be amused….those would be 2 kinds of zoos I’d willingly visit. 🙂 I welcome this personal posts! I’d like to see a picture of the shoes, and a few more visual impressions…


    • Special K

      You could make it creepy, like the Chuck E. Cheese band… Fortunately or un-, the shoes have already been miraculously cleaned by a generous dose of peroxide. Also, I didn’t have my camera on hand (because still no smartphone, tra la!)…


  3. birds fly

    Some fine anthropomorphizing here. I’ve heard of others with avian phobia, which always seem odd to me (and not just because of my fondness for birds), but then again phobias are rarely rational.


    • Special K

      Many thanks! Over the last couple of years, I’ve started to wonder whether that very tendency– to anthropomorphize– is in some way problematic. I mean, I see earnest expressions on trains curving into a bend, stern faces on buildings, and postures of resignation courtesy of plants. A form of attempted empathy or just the inevitable way humans view the world? No clue at this point– but at the very least, it’s fun.


      • birds fly

        I don’t see a problem with it. I have similar experiences frequently. And yes, it is fun! I think it just shows a person knows how to use their imagination, which in my mind is always a good thing.

        You might enjoy this.


      • Special K

        Oh, that’s fantastic, thanks! Next week, I’ll be in the midst of dramatic coastal cliffscapes, and although I’ll do my best, my guess is, I’ll quickly abandon pencil-and-paper attempts at re-creation, and instead just stare and sear it all into my memory.


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