Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dispelling Gorilla Prejudices

Mark and I took the kids to the zoo on Sunday. The teacher in me was thrilled at the educational possibilities for my kids. The biologist in me was giddy to see the animals. The philosopher in Mark felt uncertain about the ethics of keeping animals in cages for our pleasure.

We took two strollers and packed a bunch of snacks and enjoyed the sunny and cool autumn morning. As we saw more and more animals, my husband's posture gave away that he was feeling sadder and sadder for the animals. The sadder he seemed, the harder I searched for justification for the trip. I kept waiting for that moment when the kids would be mesmerized by the miracle of biological diversity and declare themselves future marine biologists or geneticists or something along that vein.

But Cole's attention span was very, very short. He wasn't impressed with the indoor pavillions that were steamy and humid. He didn't seem to want to spend more than a tenth of a second in front of any pythons or orangutans or elephants. He was fascinated by a waterfall, but didn't pay much attention to the catfish at the bottom of the pond or the hippo bathing in a pool. And even the giraffes were a bit too far away to seem as impressive as I'd hoped they'd be for him.

Then we arrived at the gorillas. We approached the enormous enclosure containing guargantuan play structures and a big, black hairy gorilla meandered in front of us. Cole watched carefully, examining the strangely familiar faces and the hand-like feet.

"A gorilla" he breathed, "and another one!" he pointed to a corner with another gorilla sitting quietly.

Then Cole watched the big gorilla in front of us for a moment longer and said, "He has a smile."

What an odd thing to say, I thought. And I looked closer and saw the gorilla smiling to himself.

Then Cole shrugged and said, "I guess not all gorillas roar."

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