I’ve always been conflicted about zoos. Large or small, they’re interesting to visit, but the idea of confining those unfortunate animals for life so people can go look at them, that stinks.
Yes, it’s an opportunity to see the animals and learn about them, which is a good thing. But when you watch a wolf or a leopard pacing, pacing, pacing in the cage from stress and boredom, that isn’t right.
But I doubt if zoos are going anywhere, and I find myself visiting them anyway. I was in Greenville, South Carolina, recently and decided to check out the city zoo.
The Greenville Zoo being rather modest as zoos go, and the elephant, lion, and jaguar enclosures being closed for maintenance, I breezed through in about an hour.
That hour, however, had its memorable moments.
The Spider Monkeys
According to its website, the Greenville Zoo has three spider monkeys: Selma, Jasmine, and Mojo. When I arrived at the primate area and looked at them through the wire, I didn’t know the names, of course.
No other visitors were nearby. One of the monkeys was sitting in a swing a foot or so inside the cage. We were at eye level. He (for some reason, I thought of the monkey as a he) contemplated me stoically.
His eyes are so human, I thought. So are his features. You can see the link between us and them so clearly.
I began to ponder the obvious questions. What is he thinking? Was he born in captivity? Does he resent being in captivity? Is he capable of resentment? What does he think of people? What does he think of me, standing here?
As I pondered, the monkey reached out, grabbed the wire of the cage with one hand, and, in a smooth motion, jumped across to the wire.
The safety railing kept me about four feet from the cage. He was still at eye level. We were as physically close as conditions permitted.
The monkey looked at me with great intensity, tilting his head repeatedly, his eyes focused on mine.
“Hey, little dude,” I said. The monkey reacted with a soft, high-pitched chirp.
“I guess if I had my way, you wouldn’t be in there,” I told him. The monkey continued verbalizing softly and studying me closely.
I glanced in both directions to be sure I was still alone. Wouldn’t want anyone to hear me conversing with a monkey. The nearest human was 50 feet away.
But I couldn’t think of anything else to say. We just looked at each other.
I considered getting out my camera, but I didn’t. Shooting through the wire never makes for a good photo. And somehow, a photo at that moment seemed — God help me — rude and intrusive.
After a time, the monkey finished checking me out. He dropped to the ground and moved a few feet to the left front corner of the cage.
Still chittering quietly, he extended an arm through the wire, straining to reach the branches of a privet-like shrub growing nearby. He couldn’t quite reach it.
I looked closer. The shrub was indented where the monkeys had broken off the tiny branches, one by one, until no more were in reach. The greenery, I assume, was tasty.
On some of the cages were signs stating that the animal required a special diet, so you shouldn’t feed them. No such sign was on the spider monkey cage.
I reached down, snapped off a small twig from my side of the shrub, and tossed it on the ground next to the cage. The monkey reached through the wire, snatched it up, and began munching.
Instantly, the other two monkeys appeared. I snapped off more twigs and tossed them on the ground. The first monkey deftly blocked the newcomers, grabbed the twigs, and rapidly scarfed them down.
I snapped off a few more twigs, but this time, I outsmarted the little scoundrel. I deftly distracted him so the others could get their share.
No monkey is gonna make a monkey out of me.
In my next post, the story of the rat snake in the toucan enclosure.