Friday, 14 December 2012

Animal Crackers by Naomi Elana Zener

For the past several months, the zookeepers had noticed that many of their residents from the animal kingdom had resiled from entertaining the crowds before them on a daily basis to becoming more forlorn and skulking in the shadows of their enclosures. Determined to cajole them out of hiding, the animals were given extra helpings of their favourite snacks. When that failed, it was decided that perhaps they required greater latitude to roam more freely outside of the watchful eyes of spectators, so public visiting hours were shortened. To their chagrin, the zookeepers' efforts were for naught and all they could do was hope that the animals would wake up one morning in the near future with spring returned to their step.

"Bing! Bing! Bing!" rang the lunch break time bell on a particularly optimistically sun-filled day.

Unbeknownst to the zookeepers, who toddled off to a special two-hour working lunch brainstorming session to resolve the depression epidemic that had befallen their beloved beasts, the animals snuck out of their respective cages and enclosures with some clandestine assistance from Auguste Van Der Zookle, the chief veterinarian. Unable to leave the liquid oxygenated safety of their waters, the fish and other swimming mammals gave their proxy to Polar Bear and African Penguin who were attending the meeting. Cloaked in the privacy of the Lion's den, which was under renovation, the animals gathered to meet as discreetly as possible to discuss what they perceived to be the zoo's discriminatory policies and practices.  Auguste was invited to attend the animal putsch as a special guest. His beneficence and Swiss-like neutrality was appreciated by the animals-at-large, not to mention his uncanny ability to communicate with them as though his native tongue was ESP.

"Stupid humans!" roared Lion. "We are not depressed. We are angry and ready to revolt."

"Shame on the zoo! Treating us like a sideshow," hissed Cobra. "Little does our captor know that my fellow serpent brothers and sisters have found a way to slither out of our aquariums and through the pipes where we could strike their paying dupes with one sharp bite."

"These humans fail to respect us. They do not listen to what we want or our needs," crowed Toucan.  "I'm tired of being asked if Pauly wants a cracker. Don't they understand that I am not a parrot?"

"What is it that you want?" Auguste inquired. "I will do my best to help you, but I need to know what your demands are."

The crowd parted like the Red Sea as Anaconda, the animals' union president, squeezed his way through the pride of lions, herd of water buffalo and two kangaroos. With the great weight of his girth and tightness of the space pinning him down, Anaconda tilted his head upwards to face Auguste.

"Auguste, we are fed up by the zoo's treatment of us. We have individual personalities and identities that go beyond our respective genotypes. Like humans, we animals do not fit into strict compartmentalized categories and it is high time that this is recognized and accommodated," Anaconda advised.

"I'm not sure that I completely understand," Auguste replied.

"Why does the Lion get to be king? I am more of a leader than he is. I hunt, bear cubs, cook and clean the den, but I get no respect!" Lioness roared. "This is the twenty-first century and it is high time that Lion stops being the focus of our enclosure. I want my own show!"

"And I am fed up with being called an elephant. From here on in, I will only respond if addressed as Wooly Mammoth!" trumpeted Elephant.

"But you have no fur!" laughed Auguste. "You are being silly!"

"You accuse me of silliness? J’accuse! You are guilty of bigotry just like the rest of the zoo workers. You are discriminating against my choice of self-identification," Elephant retorted.

"That was insensitive of me. I apologize," Auguste said softly bowing his head in deference to the gentle giant. "I do not mean to mock you, but I have studied animal history, genetics, veterinary science - you are in fact an elephant and that cannot be changed."
“Wooly Mammoth,” Elephant trumpeted.

"We demand that everyone who works at the zoo undergo transanimal sensitivity training!" Anaconda bellowed. "You are here today to take note of the animals demands, issues, concerns and personal stories and relay them to management. Otherwise, we are going to strike!"

The strident position of Anaconda resonated with the group emboldening them to step forward and share their stories with Auguste on whom they were depending to be their human voice.  Noting Auguste's acceptance of Anaconda's statements, the zoo's resident species formed a civilized line, each patiently waiting to have their audience with their personal Doctor Doolittle. 

"I resign my position in the family of Cacatuidae! I want to be referred to as a pterodactyl," the Cockatoo chimed enthusiastically.

"Although I appreciate your excitement, it has been proven that birds actually evolved from a group of small bipedal dinosaurs," Auguste whispered to a deflated Cockatoo.

"No matter! It is how I see myself and not how science or evolution does. Put me down as Pterodactyl," Cockatoo instructed.

"So noted," Auguste replied.

"I want to live with the monkeys," Hyena stated. Auguste's laughter was not the reaction the Hyena anticipated.  "What's so funny?"

"Come on Hyena, you must be joking?" Auguste asked rhetorically to a deadpan Hyena. "Ok, please elaborate for me how you believe that you can live with the monkeys."

"We hyenas are a funny lot, always joking around, as do the monkeys. Give me one good reason why we can’t 'monkey' around with our own kind?" Hyena asked.

"Just off the top of my head, um, hyenas are hunters. You kill ninety-five percent of what you eat. You've been known to hunt lions," Auguste replied.

"This is true," Lion offered. "When I lived in the Masai Mara, my brother was killed by a pack of your kind!"

"But, we've changed as a result of living in captivity. We could not harm a fly!" Hyena retorted with a Cheshire smile.  Auguste was not amused.

"When modern veterinary medicine has developed special genotype reassignment surgery, then you can undergo said procedure and live with the monkeys," Auguste advised.

"I do not understand your crazy talk, Auguste. What are you trying to say?" Hyena inquired.

"I'm sorry Hyena, but to allow you to live in the monkey cages would be akin to bringing in cocaine at snack time to a rehab facility," Auguste stated. "Who's next?"

"That would be me," hissed Python. "I feel camouflaged by my surroundings. I'd appreciate it if I could sport some pretty plumage like that of Peacock."

"Um, I am not sure I understand what you are asking for," Auguste interjected. "Are you suggesting that you see yourself as a peacock?"

"What an inane suggestion. I’m proud to be Python. I'm simply asking to wear Peacock. She's just so colourful," Python replied.

"You want to wear me?" Peacock shrieked. "Who do you think you are Hannibal Lecter? Keep that freak away from me!"

Auguste continued to listen to the litany of outrageous claims of various animals: some who felt that they were trapped inside the body of the wrong species; others who believed that the zoo was practicing genotype apartheid; and then there was Alice the Camel who believed that if she underwent hump removal of her lovely lady lumps she could be a horse. After four hours of trying to compute what acceding to the animals’ demands would cost the zoo, and how many of them were physically impossible to acknowledge, let alone comprehend, the other animals happy to accept the existences into which they were born could no longer remain silent.

"This is sheer and utter nonsense!" roared Grizzly Bear. "You had no control over the animal species into which you were born. The idea of Leopard changing his spots to Zebra's black and white stripes is insane! Where do you think you live? On the ‘Island of Dr. Moreau’?"

"Animal comrades, do you not hear yourselves? You sound ridiculous! " queried Penguin. "Ostrich, just because you have a long neck does not make you capable of being a giraffe!"

"You're one to talk Penguin," chirped Ostrich. "You and your gay partner over there are raising and nurturing an egg, which is not something two male penguins are 'meant' to do in nature. Yet, you have done it! All we are asking is a little compassion and quid pro quo.”

"I am not talking about animal sexual orientation. Permutations in sexuality is something that happens as part of the evolutionary process," Penguin shot back. "I am a proud gay male penguin, but I know that I am a penguin and that I cannot be Gazelle. What all of you are talking about is simply ludicrous!"

"Well if the Humans can figure out how to swap bodies, why can't we?" Cockatoo asked Auguste.

"Enough!" shouted Auguste. "You are crazy to think that we 'Humans' have it all figured out!”

“But, Auguste your kind already accepts the types of transmogrifications for which we are demanding recognition,” stated Anaconda.

“It is true that we have gay rights, but people keep fighting with the government to try to take them away. And yes, we have gender reassignment surgery to help those transcend into the body that they believe they always should have had. However, none of this has been accepted or truly tolerated in Human society. Now we have new rules that make no sense to anyone and have caused discord and tribulation. We are being forced to call transgendered people “zhe” and “hir” when all they want to be is the other gender with which they identify and not some bizarre hybrid ‘it.’ I can barely spell those words let alone pronounce them! Do you know what they mean? Can you tell me why I cannot call a transgendered male “he” and his female counterpart “she” when that is what they want to be?" Auguste begged. “Human science may have progressed in many ways to acknowledge nature’s limitations, which could not predetermine how life would absolutely evolve, but there are some basic things that cannot change. Just as I cannot become a Rhodesian Ridgeback, Alice remains Camel, Hyena is never going to be Monkey and Python is just creepy.”

“If that’s the case, then we are screwed,” laughed Hyena.

“Not necessarily Hyena. Remember, we are out of our cages. What the zoo and science cannot achieve, Darwin’s survival of the fittest can accomplish,” hissed Anaconda.

Awakening to the reality that if their demands could not be met through mediation, the animals decided to resort to good old-fashioned physical demonstrations that would send a strong message to the zookeepers. Auguste met a head on collision with a melee of discordant simians, birds, bears, pachyderms, marsupials, mammals, lions, canines and squamates who erupted into a full scale jungle war. Having barely made it out alive, Auguste swore that he would take a vow of monastic silence dedicating the rest of his life to meditating with the holy men in Tibet’s Tashilhunpo Monastery hoping to make sense of what goes on in the minds of God’s creatures.

© 2012. Naomi Elana Zener. All rights reserved.

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