Real Zoo Short # 8: Fruit Loops

A woman I shall call SP was what we had as a semi- vet before Dr S. She had her moments. Paul remembers:

“I recall SP always wore white, I think because she wasn’t a vet but liked to correct people when they called her Dr. P. The main thing I recall was her constant use of writing reminder notes on her white sleeves. Always had little squiggly blue lines all over. And I admired her acid tongue. I recall when John, the Environmentalist Zoomobile guy (I think he only lasted one season), suddenly realized that our barrels of mosquito and fly spray that was stored behind the barn (by the parking lot) actually contained POISON. Oh my! When he told SP of this revelation, she looked him dead in the eye, and stated: “Well, ya know, John. You can’t kill mosquitoes with Fruit Loops.” And walked away.”

Real Zoo #7: Kimba

Kim was an African spot- nosed guenon, a really lovely little monkey and unlike many captive primates quite sane, but she was also a domineering little prima donna; she treated people the way Ataika tends to treat dogs, as lesser beings that were good as servants but who occasionally needed a good bite to keep them in line. This seemed funny if you were not on the receiving end as she was so small and elegant (like Taik) that you might think her bites wouldn’t hurt much. You would be wrong. And unlike Taik she was a monkey and could rain down destruction from above.

Other Steve:

“When Kim was little, her keepers (Paul, K, Richard) established dominance and kept it. Those who came along after she was mature fared less well. I was one of the many. We started off well enough and worked together for over a year before she caught me in a moment of weakness. K and I were doing a Zoomobile in a small classroom full of kids crowded around us. I had Kim on leash and was just saying to myself, “This is unwise. She moves like lightning. Somebody could get torn up here.” Just then, Kim leapt at a kid and I yanked the leash hard toward me. I grabbed her with what I knew was a sacrificial hand and she ripped open my finger. K moved very quickly, pinning her and back in the cage she went. Then we calmly did the customary “That’s why monkeys don’t make good pets” lesson, as the blood poured down my raised arm.

“That was one class that really got the message. Dr S [Do you see a recurring pattern in these stories? SB] fixed me up later.

“The only person who handled the adult Kim well was G M. He had heard all the other stories and decided that a confrontation was inevitable, so he planned an offense. One day when they were together and were perfectly calm, he grabbed her hard and bit her. This had never happened to Kim before. After that, G was King of the Guenons.”

Paul’s story in response also reveals the Macchiavellian mind of our supervisor Richard:

“Yeah, I love G’s plan, too. King of the Guenons is not a title to be taken lightly.

“Do ya recall the escaped Kim incident with Richard? He was, without a doubt, her superior and she knew it. But….. one fine day she got away from him (or maybe from someone else, I don’t know) in the Rotunda. We were closed at the time. She had a grand time, running around the circular shelf at the top of the building. Remember?- we had slide projectors up there, running film loop of animals projecting across the building from one side to the other.

“Richard nicely called to Kim to come down. Later he screamed, pleaded, demanded, begged, etc., and there is no way she would come down. He tried all the usual tricks, including ignoring her and eating treats in front of her, and so on. Nothing worked. Then he noticed V R [sweet tall vegetarian woman with a voice and accent rather like a young Julia Child– SB] in the kitchen. And Kim loved to attack V R (or anyone else).

“So, or course, Richard waited til Kim was above the kitchen door, and called so sweetly “Oh V, would come out here for a moment?” Innocent V came waltzing out into the Rotunda, Kim dove for her head, and Richard plucked little Kim right out of the air. It was a beautiful move. And was V PISSED!!! “YOU USED ME YOU USED ME YOU USED ME” But it worked.”

Incidentally I came up with the same strategy as Glen but not in his cool rational manner. I was on the ‘mobile at a school with K and Kim and she ran up to me, grabbed my arm, and bit me HARD. So I grabbed hers and did the same, instantly. She shrieked but did not bite me again.

Always wondered what the sight of a long- haired zookeeper biting a monkey did to those third- graders though…

Blind Cave Cockatoos: An Exchange (Real Zoo # 6)

The Real Zoo had a blind Cockatoo named Cookie, who did not live in a cave. In one of our discussions I mentioned The Incident of the Blind Cave Cockatoo.

I should add that in those days I, Paul, and our supervisor Richard were the three people with the responsibility to teach the flock of (often remarkably naive– remember “special bonds” below) volunteers natural history…

Paul responded:

“I don’t recall Blind Cave Cockatoos, but I can easily picture Richard, or maybe even me, telling people that Cookie is one of those fabled birds. I always admired Cookie the cockatoo- especially when he loudly told KM [we do NOT do names of the innocent or guilty here!–SB] to get f***ed, over the PA in front of a zillion cub scouts, at the Topsfield Fair. Hilarious. Will give details later, if you want.”

I answered: “That story is all yours, Paul.

“Blind Cave Cockatoos” was ME, though Richard was there and I think you were. It was Educate The Volunteers time and some little Buffie asked me if ALL Cockatoos were blind. Without blinking I answered “Yes, Buffie. They live in caves. That’s why they are white, like cave fish. They search for their food under stones…”

“I don’t know how long I might have gone on but Richard bellowed “BODIOOOO!!!!”

“He WAS laughing though.

Paul has the last word:

“Ahh. Yes, I can picture you doing that. What’s more, I love your use of the name “Buffie”. I immediately picture the sweet little pig-tailed freckled darling, who signs her name with a cute little heart over the “i” instead of a dot.

“Reminds me of another sweet young thing who was hired at a pet shop I sometimes visit. I went in, box in hand, and gave it to her with my request of “about 50 crickets, please”. She had such a cute little puzzled look when she said…. We…. but we…. only sell them by the dozen”.

Real Zoo #5: Squirrelly

From Other Steve:

Every Spring, children living near the zoo would come in with baby squirrels that they had “found.” Chances are, they had been found after the children had knocked them out of their nests, but, each year, we’d take them in and the girls who made up the diets in the kitchen would raise them. As they grew, they would learn to treat the kitchen as their playground. As the kitchen was the social center of the zoo, every keeper would be in and out of the kitchen each day, so the squirrels used the keepers as trees and we got used to having them scurry up our legs, around our torsos and eventually perch on our shoulders or heads.
When the squirrels got old enough, the girls would open the kitchen door so that they could begin getting used to the big world outside and, by mid-summer, they would spend as much time outside as inside.

One hot July day – a busy Sunday when the zoo was packed – a very large woman was standing outside the glass wall of the kitchen, pointing at the diets being made so that her children could see what the animals eat. I was just leaving the kitchen, when I saw one of the young squirrels dart up her leg, under her voluminous dress. She immediately screamed and started whacking her thighs, where she was undoubtedly feeling tiny claws gripping her flesh as the little guy scurried up her body. I then saw a small squirrel-shaped lump pass her waistline under her dress and start running around her stomach and chest, trying to escape the woman’s blows. I rushed over to help – admittedly more for the squirrel’s benefit than for the woman’s. Her dress had a large scoop neckline and, as the squirrel darted across her chest under the dress, I stuck my hand in her neckline and tried to grab him. By this time the woman was screaming her head off and everything else in the zoo stopped as all the visitors turned to see what the matter was. After several seconds of my groping and the woman frantically whacking both me and her chest at random, the squirrel headed south and down her leg, dashing off to a nearby oak tree.

I then stepped away from the woman who was still upset but beginning to calm down. It was only then that I glanced to the throngs that were staring at me with their mouths agape. Then I realized….they hadn’t seen the squirrel at all. They only saw a crazed zookeeper violating a poor defenseless woman with her small children watching. I wanted to say, “No, wait, you don’t understand… there was this squirrel….” But I knew it was useless. All I could do was slink away in shame. I went to hide in the kitchen, imagining the headline that would surely be on the front page of the Monday’s Boston Globe: “Zookeeper Gropes Defenseless Fat Woman in Broad Daylight.”

Real Zoo # 4

Me on “My Scars”, or “Julian’s Dogs”.

It was said that at a reunion (that none of us attended) that there was a scar show. Mine, at least the ones I still have all these years later, are not from the wolf or the alligators or even the otters or the gibbon who TRIED.

“I was afraid enough of Shyly that he never got me. Careful with Kim but she bit me anyway (I bit her back and she mostly played nice after).

“Worst things that hurt me were Richard’s tossing me a shit encrusted paint scraper (infected cut on hand–ER sewed me up and it went off anyway; [vet] Dr S fixed it; still have scar).

“And scariest: night guard Julian’s out of control German shepherds (he used to brag how they put his little girl in the hospital).

“One night, thinking he had them under control (I was alone on exile at night because of that microphone incident), I went to drain the pool of the little African clawless otters. I was halfway back to the rotunda when I heard the dogs running behind me. Turns out the old drunk had passed out.

“In one of the few times in my life that I thought fast, I realized I would never get through the door, so I slammed it towards me and hung on to the handle for dear life, YELLING for Julian and for a visiting friend. They hit my legs hard in the next second– it was more like being hit with a baseball bat than being bitten, and I have been bitten a lot. One was sort of worrying me, and I felt that if I fell, I was dead.

“Julian and Mike got to me in what must have been seconds but felt like minutes. There were a bunch of superficial cuts and a dime- sized hole in my shin with bone showing– luckily somehow no major vessels seemed to be spouting. I literally do not remember and it is not in my general style but Mike says I told Julian that if I ever saw the dogs loose again I would “get my .38 and kill his ass”.

“As I had already paid the ER for the scraper fiasco without reimbursement, I elected to just clean it, though I think I had Bill S look at it– trusted him more. As you can imagine there is still a pit in my leg you can put a finger in, 40+ years later.

“We were innocents. If something like that happened today I’d own the ZOO!”

There will be more– next, OS on baby squirrels. I may add zoo digressions too– Betsy and her breeding margays, the first, with photos, or “some people CAN keep animals” (and her amazing TV appearance with Roger Caras).

To be continued…

Real Zoo # 3

Other Steve on the two baby black leopards, and television.

(I– Steve B– found the cubs, still very small when Annie first introduced them to me, rather intimidating, unlike the much bigger but almost doglike, playful young tiger. They weren’t so much malevolent as little forces of nature, like animated thorn bushes who BIT. Hard. (Betsy Huntington on margays, on TV: “Yes, they bite. EVERYTHING bites. I bite!”) I should add that Annie who raised them loved them and got affection back. Me they bit– and as I reminded her yesterday, once you picked one up, putting it down was like trying to get off animate Velcro).

OS:

Nobody wanted to do [kid’s] TV, especially Major M, so I was ordered to go. After a while, I got to really like the Major. He really understood animals and was a terrific guy.

He sympathized with the “bad pet” theme that we always tried to get across and, one day, because all the local ghetto kids wanted to buy a black panther, I decided to take Dudley on his show. This was a bit audacious, taking a six-month old black leopard on a kiddie show, but Dudley, unlike his sister Denise, was really slow in the head. I could always see his intentions before he did anything, so, I figured that, even though he was unusually big for his age, I could handle him.

The stage hands helped me bring the stainless steel cage up from the loading dock and into the studio. When the segment started, the cage was on the floor. I opened the door and tried to coax Dudley out, but he was frozen – in a mild state of shock from all the lights and cameras. So I reached in and grabbed his scruff and slid him out onto the floor. He still hadn’t moved. Bob and I knelt down on either side of him. Right away, Bob says, Now, Steve, Dudley doesn’t seem to be having any fun being here. In fact, he doesn’t look happy at all. Why is that?” (He was great at knowing what you’d want to say and he’d feed you cues to start your spiel.) “No, Major, leopards are wild animals and they are not really comfortable in situations like this, blah, blah, blah.”

This went on for a while. It was a perfect show. I was getting exactly what I was hoping to get out of it. Then Dudley suddenly, quietly, turned his head to the side 45 degrees and chomped down hard on Bob’s ankle, then froze into his new position. We both stared at him for a second, not wanting to do anything drastic in front of the cameras. Then Bob said, calmly, “Now, can you see what Dudley has done, kids? He’s biting my ankle and it’s very painful. Tell us why he did that, Steve.” “Well, Major, as we were saying, he’s a wild animal and he’s scared in unnatural surroundings. He’s really at home in the forest. This is the reason why a black leopard makes a really bad pet.” “Well, we can see that, can’t we kids? So, if kids want to have a pet, what should they do?” “Well, Major, the Animal Rescue League has lots of dogs, blah, blah, blah.”

When we broke for the commercial, I pried Dudley’s jaws off Bob’s ankle and got him back in the cage. There was blood seeping out of his boot and he said, “Well, that went very well. I think you really got your message across.” It was true. The squealing kids really shut up when Dudley chomped his leg. They REALLY paid attention after that.

It was the most successful TV show I ever did, but I realized that I had taken much too big a chance. As I got back in the truck, I said to myself, “Next time I’ll bring a safer animal like Corey the Tapir.”

(Zoonote: Remember the Great Tapir Caper? [SB: Yes, and we will get to THAT debacle– already have plenty of material, & getting more])

When I left the studio, it was already dark and I realised that, in rush hour traffic, it’d take forever to get to the zoo, so I drove across the river to my apartment. I went upstairs and asked Cathy to come down and help me with something. She came down and looked into the back of the van, which was all dark. She peered into the cage and could only see two yellow eyes. “What’s that?” “That’s Dudley” So we carried the cage up three flights of stairs. My next door neighbour who always seemed to come out her door at the wrong moment, opened her door, screamed and went back in.

Cathy was always amazing with animals; still is. She’d never met Dudley, but we dragged him out and put him on the couch. I gently stroked his ruff, as he was still in a state of mild shock and I wanted to warm him up. Cathy got him a dish of milk and was putting it in front of him when he suddenly came to life. He tore the corner off the couch, leaped about seven feet to the drapes, tearing them down. Then he tore the cord out of the TV. He was crushing the alarm clock when I got my hands on him and muscled him into the cage. That was the end of the excitement for the day.

After that, my neighbour saw me bring Vinnie the [King] Vulture in the house once and, after she saw me with a boa around my neck one day, she moved out.

(Steve B again: One more, on why some domestic animals at the zoo may be worse pets than leopards…)

Real Zoo #2: Volunteer’s First Day

My old zoo group has responded so enthusiastically that I have enough material to fill the blog with nothing else for a while. I will restrain myself, but at least start with some of this irresistible material from Other Steve, who last gave us The Law, and a bit from me about what animal I worked with actually turned out to be dangerous. OS:

First Day / Last Day

“Excuse me, you’re the new volunteer, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m Monica.”

“I’m Steve. Has Richard mentioned that you shouldn’t stick your hand in the gibbon cage?”

“Yes, but I felt so bad for them having to be in this small cage in the rotunda all winter, I thought I’d give Shyly a little scratch on his back.”

“I know, it’s really tempting, but it can be very dangerous. Maybe, you’d better…”

“But he really seems to like it.”

“I’m sure he does, but Lady is his mate and, believe me, she’ll get very jealous. Gibbons have very long canines and…”

“I know, but I really feel that I’ve developed a special bond with them. Maybe it’s just that nobody else understands……”

CHOMP!!!

“I’ll take you to the hospital, Monica.”

(Notes back from me to the group on that memorable gibbon:

“Shyly, jeez. He fell in the lagoon once and Eric D and I jumped in. We were not fools (and pretty strong). We each grabbed a hand and stretched him between us to throw him back on the island.

“And he began without much effort to sort of close his hands and draw us together like somebody working out on a bowflex machine.

“Teeth bared. Grinning.

“We got him on the island, barely. And decided maybe next time we should let him drown or at least go under twice first. I mean, I’m not that big– but ERIC? [who weighed about 300 pounds]

“I had to clean his island at the end of my night shift (in waders with a fire hose) and he was always waiting. Really the only evil thing there but for [night guard] Julian’s “they put my daughter in the hospital!” dogs. The leopards were more like mindless little velociraptors, and Emily [kinkajou/ lycanthrope] mentally ill– Shyly was smart enough to know he was in prison and hate his jailers. Working with him was like being a guard in Walpole [State Prison].”)

Steve’s Law: Tales From the Real Zoo # 1

Far Away and VERY Long Ago, in a zoo on a most distant coast, a bunch of young people worked in a big(gish) municipal zoo. Annie D, who introduced me to Betsy of Querencia (who volunteered there, but I didn’t know her then), and who often comments here, was one, and I was another. We often get together online and tell tales of those wild days forty- some years past, together with our far- flung former colleagues Paul, Glen, and Other Steve.

The stories are rude and funny and speak truth about what happens where humans and animals meet– obviously a subject of interest to Q- Blog and its readers. We have decided to start up an open- ended series of old tales, beginning with a universal rule of animal handling, courtesy of Other Steve, that I call Steve’s Law.

So: pay attention, volunteers: it is the summer of 1970, our creatively foul- mouthed supervisor Richard is going to give a quiz on your recent studies, and you will fail. Other Steve has been here for a while– listen to him…

“Every year, the new recruits (and especially the volunteers) have to be warned, especially about the primates. To me the tipoff comes when one of them says, “I understand that you have to be careful, but I feel that I have developed a special bond with (Bo, Shyly, Kimba, etc).” [Mt lion, surly plotting gibbon, dominatrix spot- nosed guenon– SB] “That’s when you know that, soon, you will be driving this person to the hospital.

“Special bond = imminent injury.

“Cautious respect = less frequent injury.

“As we all have learned, unless you pick earthworms as your animal of choice, you’re going to leak a little red fluid now and then.”

The Law. To be continued….