How the animals in the zoo get their kicks
Chimps pick locks, elephants eat firehose, polar bears try to eat people and tiny deer can be deadly. This is a backstage tour of the menagerie
ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN
A zoo IS REALLY TWO PLACES. There’s the visitors’ zoo, with all those aloof, indifferent, relaxed-looking animals, and there’s the zoo attendants’ zoo, made lip of animals that are wily, perverse, friendly, lightning-fast and lethal. The strength alone of the animals makes it a very special community. One day three painters were w'orking on a plank on top of the chimpanzee cage at Riverdalc Zoo in Toronto when the male reached up lazily and with one hand lifted the plank, twisted it and dumped the men off. The painters, who weren’t zoo men, said to hell with that and started to gather up their buckets, but they stayed when the attendants came up with the idea of covering the cage with a tarpaulin so that the chimpanzee couldn't see the painters. The chimpanzee
got the tarpaulin .by a corner and started to pull it into the cage. When four men started to pull it back, the chimpanzee nearly strained them through the bars.
Another time. Herb Southam, an old-timer at Riverdalc. w'as hosing the polar bear cage when the bear got the nozzle in its mouth and started to pull the hose through the bars. Southam called for help to save his hose. Three men got on the other end. Every now and then the bear. w'ho wasn't even looking at them, would drop a paw on the hose and reel in about five feet, bunching the men up as if they were trying to get onto a Bloor Street car. The hose finally stretched like an elastic band and snapped, and the bear took it into his pool, blew a few' CONTINUED OVERLEAF
Zoo men respect the pig family. Even the smallest wild boar uses his tusks like can openers
bubbles through it and lost interest. Hoses, one ot a zoo attendant’s handiest tools, disappear around the zoo like Wheaties. One day the elephant that was at Riverdale for twentyeight years got hold of one and ate three feet of it before it could be recovered. This elephant also set some records that probably still stand for eating women’s hats, hooking them off spectators' heads with her trunk and eating them before their horrified eyes.
The speed with which animals can act sometimes startles even zoo attendants. Once, a Riverdale attendant named Robert Lindsay, a natural bareback rider who had worked on a farm in Saskatchewan, decided to sneak a ride on the new baby elephant, which the men let run around inside one of the houses after closing time. Lie got up on a rail and threw a leg over the elephant as she went past and found himself lying behind another rail on the opposite side of the building. Every year, because of seasonal changes in cage arrangements, the wart hogs at Riverdale had to be herded through a building. The boar, before he could be corralled, would drive the attendants up cages and behind doors from which points of safety they would call information to each other about his whereabouts. Describing how fast the boar charged from end to end of the building, attendants say that a man would be standing out of sight of the boar on top of a short flight of steps in the centre of the build-
ing, flattened against the wall like a TV detective, knowing the boar was only a few feet away. By the time the man on the steps had exchanged a few directions with the men at the end of the building, ending with, “has he left yet?” the boar would have already run the length of the building, sent the other men up the bars, slammed into a door, come back again, and would be standing beneath the man on the steps again. The boar traveled exactly 240 feet every time he went into orbit.
THE DEER WHO THOUGHT HE WAS A BULL
The pig family in general is one of which zoo men speak with great respect. Even the little peccary, a dainty wild pig of the American southwest, uses its tusks precisely like can openers, and with the same result. A big European wild boar once drove George Stewart, now foreman of Riverdale Zoo, up an oak tree at High Park Zoo. Stewart had to escape by crawling across a ladder that was hurriedly placed from the tree to a fence by assistants. It wasn’t so much the near escape that makes Stewart, thinking of it now, draw his head down on his shoulders. It was the way the boar, all the time Stewart crossed the ladder on hands and knees, followed beneath, looking up at him and making eloquent thrusting motions with its tusks, which Stewart can still imitate graphically. Often it’s this kind of diabolical concentration on the part of an animal that is
most disturbing. An elk, intent on racking up an attendant, won’t run for the attendant, but for the gate he has to leave by.
One animal at Riverdale Zoo, a Père David's Deer from North China, which looks as innocent as something from Eaton's Santa Claus Parade, is one of the fastest animals in the zoo, and, particularly during the rutting season, one of the most dangerous, as an attendant once discovered just before he gave up zoo work. It was at High Park, where Lindsay was then working, and the new man had been telling Lindsay, a mild, slight, gentle little man who has been around zoo animals most of his life, that Lindsay was overly cautious about the Père David's Deer, or any other deer, for that matter. He was a big. strapping man with a booming voice who took some pride in the fact that when he was in his cups it took four men to lick him. He flapped a hand at Lindsay, picked up an oak branch, that turned out to be rotten, and hopped into the pen with the deer, the father of the Père David's Deer that's at Riverdale now. When the deer came nosing up to him, he took a swing at it and bellowed at it to take off. which the deer did. But not very far. It started to walk back and forth without getting farther away, which was noticed by Lindsay, who knew that it attacked something like a sidewinder. “I'd watch that animal,” he called anxiously. “He's getting ready to charge.” The man in the pen brandish-
ed his stick and told Lindsay to get hold of himself, when the deer, like something at a skeet shoot, hit him, knocked him down and went to work on him with its antlers. Lindsay, one of the world's little-known heroes, knowing that the man would be dead if he didn't act fast, jumped the fence and ran up to the deer to get his attention. The deer was so busy goring the other man that Lindsay had to go right up to it and waggle his hands in its face. When it finally took after him. Lindsay ran for a little house in the middle of the pen. got inside and slammed the door. The deer started to ram the door and got its head and antlers inside.
In the meantime the other man had hobbled to an oak tree. When the deer saw this, it wheeled and began to chase him around the tree, but Lindsay got the deer's attention again and the injured man made it into the house. A crowd had now gathered at the end of the pen and the deer trotted away to see if there were some people he could kill down there. Lindsay was able to get to one of the gates and open it.
The wounded man started to limp toward it, when the deer saw him and came at him again, upon which the man, in a loud, clear voice, made the odd pronouncement, "I'VE HAD ENOUGH!" and fainted. Fortunately the deer was now trying to cover both the men inside
the pen and the
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ANIMALS IN THE ZOO
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One attendant liked rolling aroynd with two tiger cubs — till the day they rolled him out of the cage
people outside it. It wheeled, went to the end of the pen again and Lindsay was able to help the wounded man out through the gate.
The animals arc just as aware of the attendants as the attendants are of the animals. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The chimpanzees, who shake hands with the keepers before each meal and clean up their scraps before they get their dessert, have been trained to knock the ice from the sliding door to their outer cage in winter. An attendant named Gerry Williams showed them how, just once, by jumping and hitting an imaginary door with his heel, like a chimpanzee. This helps Williams a great deal in winter as the chimpanzees, particularly the male, sulk and won’t cat if they can’t get out, even in bitter weather. They take a couple of old sacks outside and wrap the sacks around their shoulders like Senior Citizens. But a lot of animals who know what is expected of them also know that they can use their knowledge to drive man wild if given half a chance. Some years ago, when, to clean the polar bear cage, the attendants had to lure the bear into a separate compartment by dropping a piece of meat in it. the bear would reach for the meat but leave his hind foot inside the gate, apparently knowing the men wouldn’t drop the door on his leg. Herb Southam, a man with a lot of patience, still reckons among his coldest hours, those he spent crouched holding a rope behind and above the polar bear’s den, ready to drop a gate. Another attendant, whom Southam watched through an elaborate arrangement of peep holes, would be on the far side of the cage, nonchalantly looking the other way, chanting, “He’s getting closer! He’s getting closer! He’s going in! He’s going in!” Southam had to keep out of sight because the bear, before going in, would peek up
through some grating in the roof to see if anyone was up there holding a rope. The whole thing was made worse by the fact that the polar bear could play this game in just about any temperature short of that used to liquify oxygen.
The relationship of a zoo man and his animals is an old one. Every day for years, when the monkeys spotted Doctor J. A. Campbell, former Curator of Riverdale Zoo, they all hooted at him until he took off his hat and bowed to them, when they all stopped. The men at Riverdale often take a young chimpanzee along for a coffee break, in the basement of the monkey house, and still enjoy watching him look around for the sugar if the coffee isn’t sweet enough.
Years ago, when a favorite fox at Riverdale had to be shifted from its regular cage to one in the basement of an old building, Lindsay used to come over every now and then and hold the fox on his shoulder so that the fox could look out a window and see the people, whom he missed. .
The wolves don’t like to be touched, are very timid and don’t trust a man the way cats do. but when all the people are gone and the attendant approaches their cage in the evening, they jump up and down with delight and give him a big welcome.
One attendant at Riverdalc used to wrestle in the hay with an orangutan named Suzanne, who was always careful not to touch his glasses. The only difficult thing was that when the orangutan was through playing, she was inclined to continue to hold the man chummily by the wrist and forget him. He’d have to call softly to another attendant to go and get some bananas, which Suzanne liked even better than her keeper.
It was not very long ago that Sam Heaney, the man in charge of the cats at
Riverdale, gave up romping with two halfgrown tigers, one of which, orphaned at birth. Doctor Scollard, the curator of Riverdale Zoo, had raised in his home on milk and Pablum. The other had been brought as a cub from Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to keep the orphan company. They would playfully bat Heaney, their claws politely sheathed and, a couple of times, knocked him down, and the thought crossed his mind that it wasn’t a very good idea to be lying beneath two tigers. One morning, before the house was open to the public, the female jumped joyfully on his shoulders just as he was leaving the cage and knocked him right out through the door and both tigers came out with him and began having a ball. Heaney, working desperately, finally got the female in, then got the male’s front feet in and heaved and shoved on the rest of him, while, as Heaney says, “he lay back like a ton of bricks,” and the female kept trying to shove them both out again. He finally got the gate closed, and that was that. He still scratches their ears through the bars, but they will be regarded as tigers from now on.
It was the father of the Riverdale-born cub, who was traded to the Buffalo Zoo for a pair of black leopards shortly after the cub’s birth, that, because of a malfunctioning gate, once got into a passageway with nothing between him and the two cheetahs. Heaney almost got one cheetah inside, where he could confine it safely, but it turned and went outside again. By the time Heaney had run around to the front of the building, a distance of perhaps sixty feet, both cheetahs were dead. The tiger had broken the back of one with a swipe of its paw.
and had the other down by the throat, and held its grip in spite of Heaney’s putting the stream from a hose right into its mouth.
Heaney’s attitude to the animals, like that of all attendants, is a peculiar mixture of vigilance and a familiarity startling to spectators. He will put his hand through a little aperture in the netting that shields the bars, and scratch a full-grown African lion, pull its tail and scrub its belly with his fingers, while the lion closes its eyes ecstatically, rubs against the bars, tries to rub against Heaney and turns and licks his hand. Two minutes later, when Heaney rattles a bucket of horse meat, the lion tries to crawl through the same four-by-ten-inch aperture to get at him, and Heaney tosses the meat in with a motion like Matt Dillon’s reach for his gun. "He’s pretty quick on the draw today,” Heaney will say, shaking his head. Carnivores turn abruptly into different animals at the sight of meat, or even of a spot of blood on an attendant’s hand or on his overalls. Their eyes change color. The feeding of the cats is a sight that gives the imaginative spectator an urge
to go home and watch Father Knows Best
and forget how cats look when they go after meat.
The most consistently untameable cat is the black leopard. The pair at Riverdale are particularly frightful as they
came from the Thailand jungle just six months ago and it takes a year and a half for any jungle cat to quiet down.
I he heavier spotted leopard probably
packs more violent death than any other living animal in its weight class, but it's generally easier to get along with.
One time, shortly after its arrival at
Riverdale. the male leopard became drenched and terrified during a lightning storm and didn't know how to get inside. Heaney went into the cage, patted it. got it turned in the right direction, and gave it a helping heave up into the house.
Heaney can put his hand in the cage and scratch the male spotted leopard, but won’t go near the female, who is currently winning Oscars for being the meanest female cat in the zoo. which is saying something, as all female cats are meaner than males. This one's husband can't even stand her. which drives her wild. She has already put him in the hospital for three weeks, because ordinarily he's afraid of her and not prepared to fight. Yet at feeding time she keeps her distance. “There's something about food that gives him courage." says Heaney, who has worked out an intricate routine of feeding them separately — first, getting the female in one compartment while the male floats to a four-foot shelf with his hunk of horse meat, then shooting a piece in to the female, who comes out like a bad memory and disappears with hers.
The animal unanimously voted the most deadly in the zoo. all weights, any year, is the polar bear. He's deceptively fast and possesses strength that has few parallels outside of heavy road-grading equipment, but the main thing about him is that he's afraid of absolutely nothing. An attendant sometimes startles an animal into going through an opening or doing something else it's supposed to do. by rattling a bucket, slamming a gate, shouting or waving a broom. The grizzly bears, in an emergency, can be scared by a lawn mower running over the top of their cage. But nothing will stop a polar beatcoming or take his mind off his singleminded drive to eliminate everything on earth except, possibly, a female polar bear. He would love to kill people. Even as a cub the size of a shoe box. at an age when black bear cubs behave like puppies, polar bears will lash out at anything human. One lime, when the polar bear at Riverdale got a bone stuck in its throat. Southam had Heaney hold a broom handle out so that the bear could bite it. The bear couldn't close its mouth and got just a tiny nip of the end of the broom in its front teeth. It was enough to hold its mouth open while Southam took a piece of wire and hooked the bone out. upon which the bear yanked the broom with such unexpected speed and power that Heaney slammed against the bars hard enough to sec stars. Newspaper photographers regularly ask permission to get between the outer fence and the bars to gel a better shot. Sometimes they are tillowed to. under supervision, but are warned that the bear has a habit of rushing and standing on the concrete base of the bars so that he can reach out further (a third of the distance to the outer fence, by careful measurement). 1 he photographers never quite believe that the bear can cross the big cage that fast, or would even be interested in trying, until they look into their view-finders and. before they've found the bear, get sprayed with water as the bear's paws rake downward the predicted number of inches away.
Besides the fence outside the polar bear cage, there is wire netting around the base of the bars, an inner cage that the polar bear can be shut into, a den behind that which it can also be shut into, and a special high wire fence that goes right up over the roof of the den to prevent curious spectators from crawling along the roof. This was installed after an awful morning when the attendants saw a little boy sitting on the roof swinging his feet over the open cage. The men. afraid of startling him off his perch, approached gently, asked him his name and how old
he was and finally grabbed h'm. Sctiiham. asked if the polar bear was taking any notice, tends to lower his vo ce. “It was right underneath." he says. “Vailing."
One sunny August morning a few years ago one of the two adult chimpanzees, believed to have been the female, who is the more experimental, worked open a padlock. lifted a bolt, and opened the cagedoor. The pair ambled out to sec what things were like on the outside. These are not the adolescent chimpanzees of the type often seen on TV. A full-grown chimpanzee will go five feet high if it straightens up: it’s not much behind an orangutan in size. It has forearms the size of a man’s calf, and biceps the size of a smoked ham, and its muscles, attendants testify, are as hard as flatcar wheels.
A maintenance man named Joe Green saw George, the male chimp, sitting on a six-foot fence outside the birdhouse. About the same time, a woman was walking down the path toward Riverdalc flats with two little boys, and one of the boys turned around and said. “Look. Mom.“ His mother turned and saw the female chimp. Lulu, coming along behind them. Stewart and Southam and Gerry Williams, who looks after the chimpanzees, had arrived. They called to the woman not to run. Southam says, of the woman, “She walked along like a good fellow." The men called to Lulu, and she came back, and took Williams hand. Only once did she bare her teeth at him as they walked back to the monkey house. It was when he gave her a little tug to make her hurry. She yanked him back as if he’d caught his coat in a passing streetcar and continued at her own pace until she was back in her cage.
In the meantime, George, the male, had decided to go inside the birdhouse. An attendant named Tadman was insidecleaning up the cages. He looked up. said. “Hello. George, come on in.” and left through the door at the other end. Both doors were quickly locked, but George started clobbering everything inside with die coop-scraper and bowling the cleaner's bucket from one end of the building to the other. I he men knew he would wreck the place, so they let him out. George doesn't hoid hands; at least, attendants don't hold hands with George, but the group started casually back toward the monkey house, with George following. When they tried to manoeuvre the chimp into the house he leapt at Stewart, wrapped his great .arms around him and sunk his teeth into Stewart s chest, fortunately going through a package of cigarettes first. Stewart shouted at him and George stopped chewing and dropped down. Once locked in the house. George would take a run at a door and hit it with his feet, like a pile driver. He split a five-by-two door frame, smashed the lock, came down into the basement and chased Stewart into a refrigerator, bowled a watering can the length of the building, loosened foi tv-eight screws and eight hinges and split a two-by-six door frame at the west end of the b hiding, climbed some one-inch pipes that run up the wall to the ceilmg and smashed a window, smashed another window, ripped off a gate, and smashed three glass panes in front of the chimpanzee cage and cut his foot. The other monkeys had taken to the lofts, with the exception of a capuchin. about eight inches high, who shook the bars and screamed at him throughout.
George was now showing signs of wanting to get in his cage, but wouldn't walk through the broken glass. Southam. by running into the house when George was at the far end, doing a little work and running out again as George came at him. managed to clear a path through the glass. Williams got into an empty cage.
entering it from outside the building, to show George what it was like. George finally went in around noon. He had been out for five hours.
Like George, most animals in the zoo have no real desire for freedom. They’re well fed. protected, live longer than free animals and are treated kindly. One time Southam and the man who was then foreman noticed that a lioness' claws were growing into her pads and causing her a lot of discomfort. They got four pounds of chloroform, poured it onto a swab and dropped it into a small pen where they'd manoeuvred the lioness with some meat. The lioness swooned, but not quitc enough and Southam drove up to the corner of Bloor and Sherbourne streets and bought two pounds more from a startled clerk. When Southam and the foreman had given the lioness that, she seemed out like a light. They dragged her out of the pen by the back feet but the lioness revived and leapt right over the foreman's head. Both men got out of the cage while the lioness was getting her wits about her.
A while ago George Stewart saw that someone had thrown a pop bottle into the cage holding five black bears and realizing that the bears would break it and cut themselves, went into the cage turned with a broom and got the bottle. Asked why he cl id n't get the black bears in the house first he said, “There’d be time for them till to cut themselves before you could get five black bears inside. Black bears are all right if you don't rile them.” A good zoo attendant must (a) like animals. (b) not be afraid of them. Some fail the last test, particularly when they have to go on night duty and start to think of what would happen if an animal got out. “They start to dwell on it.” one at> tendant said. It's not a thing to dwell on too long, especially when listening to the sounds some of the animals make. One Sunday afternoon the attendants could hardly believe their eyes when they sawpeople rushing frantically to escape the monkey house. When the house was empty, the attendants found everything in place. They figured the chimp had started to hoot at the crowd.
On the other hand, zoo attendants live in a community where they are always seeing something new and interesting. There was the time when they got a piece of tree trunk weighing 145 pounds and put it in with the lion so that he could sharpen his nails, and watched him take it in his mouth and leap with it onto a shelf four feet high. And the time the chimpanzee started experimenting with the chain that lifts the door to the outside cage. He would lift the gate, let go the chain and run for the gale, which by then would be shut. Then he thought it over and hooked the chain under two planks of his perching shelf and walked out. The orangutan, which zoo attendants rate as a more profound thinker than the chimpanzee, wanting to pull the chain to liis gate, once got a piece of straw and delicately poked the chain until he got it swaying, never breaking his rhythm, and was finally able to reach out a long finger and catch it.
There are also the people—who are sometimes as interesting as the animals. A little old woman comes to Riverdale Zoo every day. looks at the elephant and nothing else and goes home. One day. a rabbi with a bunch of school children carne in. took his class to the polar bear cage, and wouldn’t let them turn their heads. Every time they tried it. he stepped up behind them and turned their heads back toward the polar bear. He had his own way of doing things but he had the right idea. Everybody should know what the animals in the zoo are really like. jç