In October of 2013 I went to Tanzania for 23 days to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, go on Safari, and wander away the itch that is Africa. After a week on the mountain I was back for two nights before being picked up outside my hotel in a Land Rover by my guide and my cook, ready to drive west to Ngorongoro Crater and later the Serengeti. This is about that. Thanks for reading and enjoy!
If you were a dramatist or prone to hyperbole you could pinpoint several deaths or near deaths or maybe simple cuts that lead a child from it’s doe eyed youth to the bloody cynical mess of adulthood. The easy ones involve Santa–if you’re Christian–or the first time you like a girl or a boy who doesn’t like you back. The more difficult might involve money or race problems–the first time someone slings “Jew” or “nigger” or whatever at you–or maybe the first time your parents get divorced. But those are easy. Not easy to overcome. Just, you know, easy to relate.
The zoo is probably a better starting point. Because if you’re a kid in America–or if let’s say you’re 30 years old writing about that time when you were a kid–you’ve grown up with “The Lion King”, you’ve grown up with “Dumbo” and “Robin Hood”, you’ve grown up with personified animals doing things personified animals should never be doing. If you grew up in Los Angeles or the nearby outskirts you’ve seen coyotes stalking the hills and later you may have printed out black and whites of your cat who went missing–as if you really didn’t know.
That might be your first clue. The coyote does what the dog desires but can’t quite figure out. It’s a wild predator just close enough to give us a glimpse. Cats will drop off mice and small birds or even insects. But even that never really quite does it. Cats are in domestic denial. The dead birds and mice feel like report cards–look at me!
But they aren’t so wild.
They’re still apart of us.
The cat. The dog. Even the wild coyote. All of these animals exhibit a very tight orbit around us. The coyote seems a step or two away from the cat in “choosing” to domesticate itself to us. The dog is just…well…we all know what the dog is.
And so the zoo is the first place to see truly wild animals. The big ones. Not cats…big cats. There are of course others. Elephants and reptiles and monkey and primates. Every big animal in the world round up into small naturey settings with imported rocks and sand and handlers to give them food and fences so we can watch.
What do you really watch though?
The sea lions make oafish glorious yalps. The elephants patrol an area too small to field a football team. The lions and the tigers pace. We’ve all seen them do it. They pace back and forth. I don’t know what the zoo handlers say about this. They might agree that the animals are nervous or anxious. That they are on some primitive level quite aware that they are prisoners. Maybe they were saved from poachers or raised at the zoo with no knowledge of the outside world. Maybe they don’t cognitively know how good they have it.
But really they fucking do.
When you’re a kid you know this too. You can see it in the animal’s eyes. It just doesn’t look right. The animals don’t look happy and you know that they really are not made for this environment. They don’t belong here.
And so you die just a little bit. Right there.
I still like the zoo. Somehow the reptiles and the birds and the insects don’t inspire the same sort of guilt that the big mammals do. Maybe I’m just not close enough to them genetically to feel sympathy. Or maybe the snake and the spider look just evil enough for me to delight in their imprisonment. Who knows…
But I ask then: what does a wild animal look like in the actual wild?
to be continued…
© 2014 Christopher Dart