29 August 2009

An Open Letter to the Los Angeles Zoo

Gentle readers - While the following note has little, well, nothing, to do with writing, it does provide an example of the power of the pen. HRH thanks you for reading it.

29 August, 2009

Mr. John R. Lewis
Director, Los Angeles Zoo
Los Angeles Zoo
5333 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Dear Mr. Lewis:

I am writing in regard to an incident that took place at the Los Angeles Zoo one week ago today, Saturday, August 29, 2009.

As Zoo members, my husband and I participated in the early admission offered on that date for members. We thought it a wonderful idea, a great way to beat the overwhelming heat and crowds that occur each summer.

We had been there for a little over an hour, and were enjoying our favorite “show” – the vocalizations of the Siamings, when we began to hear a great ruckus from the chimpanzee enclosure. Thinking that perhaps the animals were being fed (most were), we walked towards the chimpanzees.

As we drew near, we could tell that something was unusual. Most of the chimps were crowded together near the front of the enclosure, and they were agitated, and very, very vocal.

Children were running excitedly towards the cage, thinking they were going to be treated to an extraordinary sight. Unfortunately, they were.

At first, it was difficult to discern what was the cause of the chaos. Then, suddenly, the horrific truth unfolded. A juvenile raccoon had wandered into the enclosure, most likely overnight. When the chimps were released into the enclosure for the day, it had attempted to hide by climbing into a tree. After a little over an hour, the chimps had discovered it, climbed up the tree, and flung it to the tribe below.

The poor creature was quite terrified. This is not anthropomorphism gone wild – the little raccoon was quite aware of its impending death, its eyes were wide in its great distress. The chimps tossed it back and forth among themselves. At one point, they threw it to the ground again, and the creature made a desperate attempt to escape. Sadly, this did not happen.

The behavior of the chimpanzees accelerated in its aggression. They began to pull the raccoon as it struggled, ripping it from one another’s grip.

My eyes repeatedly scanned the crowd for a zoo employee. I located two and quickly ran to them, asking them to do something, at least cordon off the area, as very small children were becoming quite traumatized. One muttered to me that a “trainer was in the pen” with the chimps (?); the second responded with “that’s just what chimps do.”

By the time I turned back, the raccoon was walking away from the alpha male, who then snatched the raccoon up, flipped it on its back, and drove its teeth into its pelvic region.

Near me, a young girl began to scream, as her horrified mother attempted to comfort her.

I spotted a docent – a volunteer. An unpaid supporter of your zoo was the only person to respond. She pulled out her cell phone and called for security.

My husband and I left the carnage. We walked silently to the front of the zoo. A couple walking near us told us that they had seen the raccoon when the zoo first opened. They told a keeper – the keeper did nothing.

I have a long history of the study of primate behavior, and realize that a single grown chimpanzee can kill a man, let alone an entire pack of them. That being said, the inaction of your employees was absolutely reprehensible and without excuse. Rather than stand around and drink Pepsi, your employees could have immediately called security and restricted the area, thus preventing the public (including about 40 small children) from witnessing such a traumatic event. Of course, the sad truth is that your keepers should have done a great deal more. A visual sweep of the enclosure prior to releasing the chimps into it would have completely prevented this gruesome event. Second to that, once the keeper had been made aware of the presence of the young raccoon in the enclosure, he could have worked to get the chimps back into their holding area, and rescued the little creature.

Think of the goodwill that any of those actions would have set into motion.

Think on this. The Zoo is located in Griffith Park. What if, for example, a pack of coyotes were to wander into the Zoo, and tear apart one of your young animals – oh, let’s say a chimp – for food? Or a mountain lion? For both are indigenous to this area, and they are, as pointed out, just doing “what they do”. I wonder what the Zoo’s action would be then. The hunting and killing of these native animals. Why? Ah. I have it. Your animals cost money. They are of value to you.

These are troubled times, and your Zoo has had more than its fair share of bad press over the last two years. Now, I understand why. Your staff completely disregarded the safety of a native species as well as the emotional well being of close to a hundred Zoo members - Zoo members that have the choice to not renew their membership.

I am asking for an immediate, public response to these events. I would like to know what the Los Angeles Zoo plans to do to ensure that such a catastrophe does not occur again. I am posting this letter on my viral sites (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In) in an effort to raise awareness of your organization's mishandling of this occurrence, as well as to encourage anyone else who was witness to what happened that day to speak up and do the same.

I will never, ever be able to erase the memory of the expression on that poor little animal’s face. And for that, I hold you completely accountable.



Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

that poor, helpless animal... they should have stepped in to do something. Ugh.


princess scribe said...

Sweetie, it ass-sucked. I am well award of the fact that nature is a harsh mistress. However, even if the event could not be prevented (I believe it could have) the reaction - oh, I mean non-reaction - was appalling. The poor defenseless creature, the small, YOUNG children. This was not an educational opp. This is why my school waited until I was in 8th grade before we viewed NIGHT AND FOG. This was appalling.

And could have been prevented.

Poor babe.


Anonymous said...

That Zoo has been disturbing for a very long time. In 1969 I took the magnificent Angel Petrulli to the L.A. Zoo on our very first date. We were at the Gorilla's cage and I was telling a specific Gorilla he reminded me of my Uncle Mitch. First he raised his eyebrows and just turned his back at me. Then that big guy reached around under himself and defecated in his hand where by he whipped around and heaved at me a large meatloaf looking glob with seemingly surreal torque. I ducked but a big hot heap of his poop gathered it's own momentum flying a good 100 feet until it hit Angel right in the face! That experience too made that relationship very dysfunctional.


Lydia Lee said...

Thank you for addressing this issue with the zoo. I wrote about this event on my blog also since I was there with my husband and three year old son. Luckily, my son was unaware of what was happening and we were able to hustle him away quickly. I had no idea that zoo officials had been alerted much earlier about the presence of the raccoon. With all the negative PR the L.A. Zoo has dealt with lately, one would think that there would have been a more appropriate response. How many members will rethink renewing the memberships the zoo so desperately needs right now?

Anonymous said...

Horrors! That incident must have caused PTSD in some. I'm so glad you wrote that letter and published it virally!