Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Day at the Zoo: the Nightmare Continues

So, here we are, refreshed somewhat and ready to take in the show, right? It is a circus type act where various animals perform under the direction of their trainer. I’m being exceedingly generous when I say ‘direction’. You’ll soon see why.

As I approached the circular dome where the performance is put on, I could hear loud, pumping music emanating from within. That struck me as rather odd: wouldn’t such volume discomfit the animals? I needn’t have worried: the animals were in such a terrible state that for them to be discomfited would have been a step up.

Nearly every seat was taken and all of the patrons eyed the ring with undisguised anticipation. As yet there was nothing going on in the ring so everyone hushed as the foreigner with startling blond hair walked by. I have to confess I had a moment’s apprehension as I walked in; I imagined…

See our dancing BEARS! Behold our counting DOGS! Witness our prancing DEER! And here our ELEPHANTS will balance on a ball! Now our FOREIGNER will do tricks! At which point I parade out in a tutu holding lit sparklers in my hands and a rose between my teeth. I then start spinning on my head; somehow the lit sparklers end up between my toes. The lights are turned out for maximum effect.

Hysterical laughter threatened to burst forth… and that was the last time I felt like laughing for the rest of the day.

Out came the bears, accompanied by their trainers. The trainers wore red jumpsuits with gold piping on the sides; the bears wore choke collars. I’m not kidding: choke collars. These collars were so tight they clearly delineated where the bear’s head ends and where the body begins. When the bears were not performing, they were clawing at their necks. At least the bears got treats… but maybe that was torture in itself: imagine trying to swallow while wearing a choke collar.

I thought the bears might be the worst of it, but no! There was more yet to come. But at least the bears got treats.

Along came a collie – at least it looked healthy and clean. It was made to jump through hoops. The only sad part is that it got whipped to do so. When it tried to turn away from the hoop, the trainer whipped him. The poor animal cringed and did as it was bid to. Its partner, a small white dog was made to walk on its forelegs. When it dropped back on all fours after just a few steps on its front paws, the trainer grabbed it by its rump and yanked its back legs off the ground. The dog dropped down again and again with the yanking. Over the din of the music I heard the dog whimper. Fortunately the poor puppy only had to do one lap around the ring.

And now I see how the wolf probably broke his paw.

I’m not crying yet, but I’m pretty well disgusted: both at the way the trainers treated the animals and at the laughter from the audience. How they were not shocked into silence is a mystery to me. Aren’t they seeing the same abuse of animals that I’m witnessing?

By the time the goat came out with a small capuchin monkey on its back and was whipped into climbing a narrow ladder and made to cross a leather bridge that looked about the thickness of a razor strop, I was wishing I had PETA on speed dial. The goat was made to sit on a small raised platform mounted on the strap while the monkey positioned itself on the goat’s head. The goat now had to turn around and walk back to the midpoint of the strap and get on its head and spin with the monkey clinging on its back. Both animals were clearly terrified: they kept cringing as the whip pelted their flanks and their entire demeanor screamed ‘FEAR’ as they looked at their trainer.

I’m near tears, but it wasn’t until the cats came parading out that the dam burst. These aren’t simple tears that roll down your cheek unbidden as you think of or behold something sad either. I’m actually crying.

My friends, there is nothing sadder than a Bengal tiger who cringes before a whip. I honestly don’t remember what this cat was supposed to do, but I do remember thinking that that tiger could rip that person’s head off, IF the tiger remembered his true nature. Apparently the beast had been so mistreated that he forgot all about being a big cat and instead cowered in front of the whip. He didn’t even raise a paw in self-defense. He just saw the whip and cringed. Once the trainer backed off and lowered the whip, the tiger performed. None of the cats roared or evinced any typical jungle animal behavior; one might say they were so cowed that they have forgotten their might. How much beating does one have to do to such an animal to get it to act like that?

And still the show goes on. And still my tears flow.

The lion decides to not perform either, so he runs around to the back of the enclosure and tries to run to his cage backstage. Unfortunately, access to backstage is barred so the trainer immediately catches him and whips him, and then forces him back up on his aluminum podium where he is to stand on his hind legs and wave at the audience, along with the other cats.

The crowd goes wild. Applause rings through the house and the trainer takes his bows. He has done nothing to earn. I’d like to whip him like he whips those cats. I’d like to shove his whip down his throat. Still I’m crying. Let’s bring out the final act: the elephant.

Mercifully the elephant did not get whipped very much. On the other hand, with the thickness of elephant skin maybe whipping would not be effective. There’s other ways to humiliate elephants, though… like making them dance, making them balance on a ball, making them spin round and round. The elephant was the least mistreated animal of the show.

Two observations I make, after reviewing what I’ve written. The first being that I use the word ‘cringe’ a lot. Fact is, there was a lot of cringing going on, and a lot of beating. I’ve searched my brain and my thesaurus in vain for a different word to use and could find none. I apologize for the monotony, but I do urge you to be thankful that you did not witness all that cringing; you’re just reading about it.

Second observation: normally I do not care much for organizations like PETA. Their singular focus seems a bit wacky sometimes and maybe just more than a bit overboard, but in this case I can see their use. If PETA had witnessed this show there would have been outrage followed by action. I only had outrage and tears at my disposal.

The only good thing that happened at the zoo was the new friends I made: George (named after YOU, George – I christened him so because he did not have an English name.) and his lovely fiancĂ©e, YoYo.

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