Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Private Primates In Public


You have to love it when you read news in the UK media about animals escaping from their cages in US zoos. Ah, who am I kidding? You have to love it when you read anything in the UK media. It's so straightforward and blunt that you have no other choice than to come to the logical conclusion that is just looming over the story.

From the fine folks across the pond at The Telegraph, we learn that Bruno, a 29-year-old male orangutan managed to make a hole in the wire fencing of his cage at the L.A. Zoo and escape on Saturday evening. Bruno meandered about the zoo for approximately 20 minutes while 3,000 visitors were "shepherded toward the front exits." OK, are you thinking what I'm thinking? 3,000 people at the freaking ZOO? Holy cow. (Are there cows at zoos? I can't remember. But they do herd cows in a similar fashion.)

The staff at the zoo said that Bruno never made it to the "public areas and that he was quickly sedated by his keepers." Um, I don't know what the zoo staff considers to be the "public areas" of the zoo, but for me "out of the cage" qualifies as being in a "public area." Are they trying to say that Bruno only roamed through the private areas of the zoo? Is there some sort of elitist primate section of the LA Zoo that us lay folk are unaware of? They're "shepherding" people, the ape is loose, but no need to worry, the public areas are safe. I'm not buying it. If you have an orangutan out of it's cage at the zoo (in Los Angeles no less!), you really do have a situation on yours hands.

According to the zoo promotions coordinator, Gina Dart, "He was calm and responded well to the staff. He was never aggressive." Responded well to the staff? Well, all except that part about "stay in your cage at all times, Bruno." Yeah, he had a little trouble with that.

According to the LA Times, once Bruno was out of his cage he didn't try to flee, but instead he "hid in an area behind his pen." See? He was just messin' with them. He knows what side of the cage his bananas come from. Or something like that. And it was when he was behind the cage (in what had to have been the worst game of Primate v. Man Hide and Go Seek ever) when one of the zookeepers spotted him.

Zoo director John Lewis said that Bruno "was easily sedated because, like the other five orangutans at the facility, had been trained to allow his keepers to administer medicine." And while all of that is fine and good, perhaps he should have been trained to stay in the damned cage! Mr Lewis said, "Fortunately all of our great apes, the staff trained them to allow medical procedures, so the keeper actually put him through his behaviors, and he allowed her to hand inject him with anaesthetic and went right to sleep. Then they carried him to his bedroom, and it was all over in about 20 minutes," he added.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad they didn't just let Bruno have free run of the place like they kind of did in December last year when a tiger got out of it's pen at the SF Zoo. But really, the whole zoo/tiger incident was totally different. I mean, the tiger didn't really make a hole in anything to escape. She didn't need to. The enclosure that Tatiana the tiger was in was about 4 feet shorter than what is regulated. (Granted, the zoo had gone through many inspections and no one told them it was too short until the tiger jumped out and ate someone, so it's hard to put all of the blame on the zoo.) So while they have cages at the LA Zoo, in the case of the tiger at the SF Zoo, it would seem that they had been kind of on the honor system. Basically, there was what amounted to a curb between Tatiana and the visitors and the zoo thought that the tiger would honor their agreement. Two wounded visitors and one eaten visitor later, they realized they were wrong.

So thanks for getting the orangutan back in his cage there, fellas. We like it when wild beasts in the city aren't quite so wild.

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