Life is a zoo in a jungle.
Peter De Vries
Years ago some friends and I went to a zoo in a large city. After wandering around we got to the primate area. There was a large field with baboons chasing each other around and a building next to it. When we entered the building we were in the gorilla section. There were several glassed in areas. One of them was a small area with rocky walls and ledges. Sitting on the ledge near the window was a young male gorilla watching the people go by. There was a bench nearby, so I sat down.
Within a few seconds that youngster and I were staring at each other. He reached up and brushed his shoulder once. I did the same. Every time he made a gesture I copied him. He seemed interested in that. I held up my hand in the gesture of a greeting. He watched me but didn't do anything. I did it again. After the third time he copied me.
Soon we were making gestures at each other. I always imitated him, which seemed to amuse him. Some of my gestures he imitated, some he didn't. There was a man's voice behind me with a scornful tone that said "Ha. Monkey see, monkey do."
"Ape" I said.
"Ape, not monkey."
"Oh, really" the scorn went on. "And what's the difference?"
"Monkeys have tails" I said.
He walked away.
The imitation game went on for a while, back and forth, until the mother gorilla came out to get him. She lifted him up gently. He climbed up onto her shoulder and as they disappeared behind the rocks he looked back at me.
I didn't see that young one again, but I wonder just how much real communication there was between us. There certainly seemed to be thinking going on.
Considering that he was probably born there, under the supervision of the zoo's veterinarian, that he was fed and cared for by the custodians, that he had other young gorillas to frolic with and the adults as companions and that when he wanted some entertainment he could sit on the rocks and watch the silly humans walk by and gawk at him, my final question is: Which one of us is living the more civilized life?
DB - Vagabond Journey
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