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ultraruby got me thinking about my zoo days again.
What seems like a very long time now I used to work in a zoo. I was doing many of the grunt jobs, but it was fun. I was on the early shift, and I really hated having to get up at 6am, in wintertime no less, but what made it all better was the wolf howls at 7 am sharp, every day.

The wolves from the bottom of the zoo would be calling to their cousins on the other end, and evey day I'd just stand still and close my eyes and listen as their throats birthed and shaped sounds as beautifully as any singer.

I spent most of my days in the monkey house, watching the antics of the chimpanzees and trying to prevent people from throwing stuff into their cages. There were many many characters. A particularly morose female orangutang, and an aged, arthritic mangabay who spent most of his time attempting to avoid the attentions of the amorous, much younger female who shared his cell. Every day they'd do a dance, where he'd sigh, and move off painfully, and settle down somewhere, only to have the female follow him adoringly and sit on her haunches and chatter and attempt to seduce him, and he'd shrug his shoulders to dislodge her, and sigh, and get up, and move off creaking, and settle down again and on it went.

I think my favourites were the two baby chimpanzees. They were young enough to be cute when they were being naughty, and they were terrible pickpockets. They could whip a watch off your wrist faster than a gypsy boy. But despite how irritating they could be sometimes ( like any small child), I still loved how eagerly they stretched out thier hands to me through the bars. And I loved the feel of their skin, hard and hot and dry, like an old person's hand, and how firmly their long fingers wrapped around mine.
And I got to do all sorts of other exciting things, like hold baby tigers, and get spat on by a camel (vicious creatures, camels).
Before Belgrade zoo, my only other experience of chimpanzees was in a circus, when I was a child. This was shortly after my father died, and the man who would become my stepfather was attempting to cheer me up by taking me to a circus, which was a bit of a personal sacrifice on his part. So to picture the scene if you will. Imagine a spaced out child in a red sweater and ratty blue jeans, and a tall, neat, very elegant man in suit and tie. Both of them sitting on rickety wooden benches, him attempting not to get sawdust in his shoes, and genially bearing cackling women who elbowed him in the ribs, and watching the show for three hours with perfect patience and composure although undoubtedly he was going crazy in the privacy of his skull. I've always thought my stepdad was a top guy, but I love and respect him more with hindsight. In the interval, a woman making the rounds with a polaroid camera and a chimpanzee dressed in a babygro the colour of candied apples. She deposited the chimpanzee in my lap, and it proceeded to wrap its limbs around me, and it was quite one of the most splendid things that had ever happened to me. My stepfather still has the polaroid picture.
The zoo where I worked was overrun with mice (teeny, tiny grey ones that wiggle in from beneath the doors), and I am overrun with mouse phobia, so it was not at all unusual to see me making athletic leaps onto chairs. The mice were tiny jobbies, and nervous wrecks and they'd flee across countertops and scatter at the sound of clapping (or human screaming). I got better after a while of limiting my safety zone (if no mice were within two meters of me, I was okay).

The zookepers had the best stories. I think my favourite one was to do with the bears. We had two polar bears, female, and male and one enclosure to house them all in. The zookeepers wanted to separate the male from the female so they could give her a medicine, and two of the zookeepers devised the following plan. That one of them would stand at the top of the enclosure with a big hose and keep the bear at bay (if he protested his separation from his wife) with a jet of water, while the other zookeep would descendinto the enclosure proper and take a look at the female. So down the zookeep trots, and the bear protests and grumbles and starts to move towards him, and the zookeep on top starts panicking because the hose wasn't working properly, and begins pelting the bear with that infamous weapon of mass destruction called wet bread. Oh yes. And while he's doing that the guy on top of the enclosure (and thus several meters above both bears) is shouting to the zookeep with the bears: "Hurry up and get out of here, I'm risking my life here!"



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 23rd, 2004 02:28 pm (UTC)
that infamous weapon of mass destruction called wet bread. Oh yes

omg rofl.
Dec. 23rd, 2004 02:41 pm (UTC)
Baaaaaby tigers! I am horribly envious of you. Wow! Were they the cutest lumps ever?
Dec. 23rd, 2004 02:42 pm (UTC)
not as good as lynx cubs, obviously... ;-)
Dec. 23rd, 2004 02:46 pm (UTC)
I might need to get one of each and test them out. Bring me a baby tiger and a baby lynx and I'll let you know....
Dec. 23rd, 2004 02:50 pm (UTC)
OK. Should be OK to take on the tube. ;-)
Dec. 23rd, 2004 10:52 pm (UTC)
your time in the monkey house must have been invaluable preparation for your current job
Dec. 23rd, 2004 11:10 pm (UTC)
i keep telling people nothing prepares the way so well for understanding people as the study of animal behaviour. :)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


deep sky, firefly

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