One of my closest friends, Jason, adores animals yet often finds they do not care for him. This week, he cited several examples to prove his point to me. Recalling two of his favorite television programs, Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin, there was no doubt in his mind that he had always idolized these canines as true heroes on each weekly show. Remembering the death of a rabid dog in the famous Disney classic, “Old Yeller” he explained that this tragic plot had caused him to cry. Recollecting his travels on an African safari, I personally witnessed his vehement promise that he would never again book a tour where one would be forced to watch a “tiger kill” in the wild. Perhaps, it would do him some good to soul- search how his intentions contradicted his actual actions in actual encounters with animals in his past.
A distinct pattern of animals reacting negatively toward his presence became clear to me in our continued conversation. He was spit on once by a camel on an Australian camping trip as he playfully touched its front leg. On another leisure outing, an African Secretary Bird chased him angrily as he attempted to cut off its path in the gardens at Busch Gardens. Near home, a stray dog once attacked Jason after he had made barking sounds exiting his grandfather’s house, requiring an administration of painful, rabies shots. Raising his hands to me carefully now, he additionally pointed out the battle scars of revengeful dog bites in his childhood from poking his high-strung pet, Teddy Bear, the family’s Pomeranian. Even now, he confesses that his mother’s cat, Molly, avoids him “like a plague” as he stomps into the living room yet this same feline always snuggles up to the quieter presence of his wife on their weekly visits.
It seemed my friend’s visit this week to the Miami Metro Zoo, with his wife and mother, would not be a series of cuddly encounters with wild animals basking for his friendly attention. I saw it instead as an opportune occasion for him to spend time with the family and learn a lesson to rethink his approach to how he should treat animals. Realizing that he had this knack of arousing their antagonistic instincts, I felt he would be on his best behavior to not provoke the wildlife in the company of his loved ones.
I then listened intently to the rest of his story.The family had arrived promptly in the park at 10:00 am.on a cool and clear weekday morning. Foregoing the usual option of walking the guided paths, Jason made accommodations for his mother by purchasing a cozy-looking, pedal bicycle for three. He also noted that steering his way throughout the park had kept his mind busy from sinister thoughts of “getting a rise” out of any beasts as their vehicle passed nearby.
One of their more active stops today, I knew from past experience, would be the Howler Monkey section. He first told me now how much he had enjoyed watching these playful primates with spindly legs swing wildly through the tree limbs of their open-air environment. Then he surprisingly added that he felt sheer joy in “passively” watching them acting playfully in their natural surroundings. Under such circumstances, I realized that had for the first time, Jason began to question his own mischievous behavioral antics.
Feeding time also seemed to be a potential opportunity for Jason to resume inciting the animals. Yet I was shocked how he had shown unselfish empathy for the hunger of these animals today, as he raised the following questions to me about their desperate search for food. Why did a multitude of hungry carp converge on a single pellet of food thrown to them? Was it necessary for a friendly giraffe to contort his tongue through a wire fence to reach for his expected snack? What effect did a small-cage exposure have on a nervous emu who had to wait everyday in such confinement for his daily nourishment?
Ultimately, Jason acquired some insight today that he had been underestimating the potential threat of wild animals that could be caused by his animal-provoking ways.He seemed to reason that he would be no match for a charging rhino or a threatened elephant in their natural environment. Being present at the zoo today thus offered him two, contrasting perspectives. Should he continue to act as an aggressive predator who feels the need to dominate animals and risk retaliation from them or was it time for him to admit that he had deceived myself from the reality that the protective fences and walls he experienced today were put there for good reason to protect animal-inciters like him from becoming a potential prey? While Jason would never exude a friendly vibe around animals, nonetheless, he had finally realized that teasing animals did not appear all that fun anymore.