I was quite young when I first went to the zoo. I can remember holding on tightly to my mother as we entered through the little gate into the park.
There were all kinds of creatures in there, making so much noise that I let go of mother to cover my ears.
We passed all the animals I had seen in my books, the Tigers, Lions, and Bears before we got to the Primate section. Chimpanzees, Capuchins, Baboons were just a few of the monsters behind the bars.
I shivered in delight as we watched them, climbing around the enclosure, grooming each other, and chattering at each other.
A voice came over the tannoy, “For the safety of patrons, we ask that you do not attempt to enter the enclosures. Thank you.”
“Why would anyone try and get into a cage with them?” I asked.
“Well, there are some people who see all the creatures in this zoo as cute. And I can’t deny that they are very cute when they’re babies, but they grow up eventually.” Mother said, “Anyway, I want you to see the new exhibit.”
We walked further in.
The enclosure my mother stopped in front of was quite small, and there were comfy looking padded blocks here and there in the yard area. At the back was a small wooden hut with a flap for a door.
I looked at the sign that was between the path and the enclosure wall and mother read it out loud for me, “Warning, highly dangerous creature. Do not, under any circumstances, approach the wall.”
“Ooh.” I breathed, “what is it?”
“You’ll see. It’s nearly feeding time.” Mother smiled and stroked my face, “Don’t be scared though, little one. You ‘re safe with me.”
A keeper, pushing a wheelbarrow, approached the enclosure. He picked up a pair of buckets, one large, one small from his barrow, walked over to a caged doorway and let himself in.
I caught a glimpse of what the creature was being fed. In one bucket was what looked like mud, but it was pink, red, and white, and smelled disgusting to my delicate nose. “What’s that?”
Mother looked over, shuddered, and looked away again, “You don’t want to know, darling.”
The keeper walked over to one of the padded blocks and placed the contents of the small bucket into one section of the feeding trough. Into the other side, he poured chunks of fruit and vegetables.
“Does it not drink water?” I asked.
The keeper heard me and looked up, “He has a separate drinking container inside his sleeping area, in there.” He gestured at the hut.
There was an indescribable noise, somewhere between the howls of the Chimpanzee and the hoots of a Howler monkey. It repeated and then came a weird noise, all breathy and alternating in pitch.
“Ah, he’s hungry then. I’d best get out of here before I let him out.” The keeper picked up the buckets and ambled back to the enclosure entrance. He was very careful to lock the door inside before leaving through the gate and locking that too. Then he pressed a switch and after a high-pitched whine there was a click, “He should be out soon.”
“Why do we have to lock all the animals in here?” I asked Mother, tugging on her to get her attention, because she was staring into the cage.
“They’re all predators, Little One.” The Keeper said, walking over to us, “The whole Zoo is full of predators. If we let them out to mingle with normal people, they might escape.”
“Would that be so bad?” I asked, as the creature emerged from the hut.
“Watch him eat, and then you might have your answer.” The keeper said, “I’ve got to go feed the Lions now.” He picked up his barrow and walked away.
I looked into the enclosure. The creature looked like a chimpanzee but a lot bigger. It had a long flowing mane down it’s back that caught the sunlight and turned gold. A pair of bright blue eyes peered out from between the shaggy fringe of hair over its face and the curly matt of hair on its lower jaw.
The rest of his pale skinned body was almost hairless. There was some on his back legs and lower front legs. It walked across to the food trough, sat down on the padded block, and prodded at the food with his odd, long digited front paws.
“Mother, why does he have a tiny trunk between his back legs?” I asked. The thing had flopped around with his movements.
“That’s how you know it’s a He.” Mother said, “Remember what happens when Father gets excited at Mating time?”
I remembered. I’d never seen a trunk that looked so weird or that was so big. My aunties had ushered me out of the way quickly, but I’d discussed it with mother afterwards and she’d explained that it was how Father implanted the seed into her and my aunties to make babies. It seemed logical.
The creature was now eating. He picked up pieces of vegetable, smeared the pink, red and white stuff on it and stuffed it into his mouth.
“The reason that I wanted you to see him, is that he’s a wild one. He was caught by your father and uncle on their trip to the Americas and he attacked them. So, they trapped him and brought him back to Africa.”
I stared at the creature and then stared at Mother, “That’s a Human?”
“Yes. Humans are the most dangerous creatures in the world. They brought about the Cataclysm that almost destroyed every living thing on Earth.” Mother sighed, “He,” she pointed to the creature, “is very lucky that your Father works for a CC Zoo. Had your Great Grandfather found him, he would have been trampled into mush before he’d even landed a blow.”
“But that’s horrible! Humans are Earthlings too. They deserve to live.” I glanced at the Human, who, having finished his pink stuff and vegetables, was eating the fruit.
“Yes, but for a long time, they were considered pests and destroyed by anyone who found one. Now there are only a few left in the wild and a couple of hundred dotted around the world in the Carnivore Conservation Zoo Network.”
“Are there any that aren’t considered dangerous?” I couldn’t keep my eyes off him.
“The females are a lot gentler, communicate with sign language and can be trained to do simple jobs. They also don’t seem to mind a purely Herbivore diet. Your Father thinks that they may be a separate species, but they have so many characteristics in common with the males that the theory is hotly debated.” Mother laughed.
I didn’t understand most of that, so I let it slide, “So what do males eat that make them so dangerous? It has to be the food causing it.”
Mother smiled, “You’re your Father’s daughter all right.” She took a deep breath, “That pink stuff? That’s meat. Have you studied the habits of Carnivores yet?”
“No. Why?” I frowned, “What’s meat?”
“Never mind then. You’ll get to it eventually.”
There was a noise from the enclosure. The creature in the cage had finished and had moved to the very outer edge of the wall. It gripped the steel bars and stared at us, water leaking from its blue eyes.
“Can it understand us?” I asked, backing up a little.
“None of the Humans your father has captured so far have been able to understand us. He tried to get them to learn simple language, but so far…”
I looked at the Human, “It looks like it can understand us.”
“No, my Darling little one, it can’t.” Mother stroked my face with her trunk, “Now, we’re going to go meet your Father. He’s taking us to lunch at the Banana Grove.”
“Yay! I love the Banana Grove.” I trumpeted and giggled.
As we walked away, I looked back at the Human, “Mother he looks lonely.”
“Well, once he’s become acclimatised to the enclosure, your Father is going to introduce him to a female. They’re hoping to start a breeding programme, but it’s so difficult to breed humans in captivity; the males love the sexual process, but the females don’t, they often reject the male, which can lead to the female getting damaged.” Mother draped her trunk over my back, “Now no more discussing Humans, let’s talk about school.”
“Mother! That’s boring.” I groaned.
(c) Mandy E. Ward, September 2021