Revolt of the Zoo Animals

Jackal knew his ideas seditious so he spoke them only in whispers.

Slinking, he went, sidling: His muzzle hung low, pants breathless: His hackles at attention, speech bated: His glances darting, manic, craven: His reviled visage peddling his inflammatory words from one end of his zoo run to the other, from one zoo neighbor to the next: His once-cowardly prowling now purposeful, now perverse with his need to repeat his awful realization.

But nobody listened.

His reputation compromised his message, Jackal saw.

So he went to Warthog.

Once Warthog started repeating the phrase it immediately gained an audience.

"We only exist for the sake of humans," Warthog repeated.

And debates ensued. Counterarguments about bananas came to the fore, about raw steaks. Then warm sunny days were broached, then mating. But in the end even even-tempered Orangutan conceded.

"No," Orangutan judged after long consideration, "The green sweetness of a young banana does not specifically refute Jackal's point."

And Grizzly then advanced, reluctantly, "Then neither would the juicy tang of a freshly killed steer, regardless to what rapture it rouses me and Panther."

Macaw acquiesced: "Fine weather flight fills me with well-being. But I can't say it proves I exist for my own sake."

And unanimously and uproariously then all the zoo animals bawled: "Our mating sessions are over-controlled and severely curtailed!" This, they all concurred, emphatically supported Jackal's philosophy.

The public debate ebbed.

The reasoning turned inward.

Across the subsequent weeks each animal asked himself: "Is it true I only exist for the sake of humans?" And each animal reconsidered all the arguments. And each animal surrendered to the truth. Truly, each thought, humans have bred us for their sake and their sake alone. Truly, each thought, without humans we would not exist. This fact was agony to accept. It gutted one's self-worth. It punctured one's worldview. But acceptance did eventually dawn. The zoo animals fell into a listless torpid depression.

The depression lingered for some time.

Finally Jackal spoke again. This time his reputation did not compromise his message. This time, in fact, Jackal found the zoo animals actively seeking a new belief, any new idea that pointed them toward independence and self-sufficiency. So he spoke, and they listened.

"Let's revolt," Jackal whispered.

And suddenly the zoo perked up.

Communiques shrieked forth from the monkey house. The tedious crawl of dialogue from cage to tank to run befit the pace of discussion, but not that of insurrection. Coups demanded instantaneity. The monkeys took up the charge of informing the zoo with customary relish and zeal. Usually derided for their high-pitched barking, they now paraded its utility, broadcasting bulletins at full throat. Every ear in the zoo pricked to their screeching the coup's date. Every ear in the zoo cocked to their howling the coup's hour. Every animal hearkened to the hooting of his own respective mission. And then, once each had bayed or trumpeted or cawed back his acknowledgement, the animals hunkered down to wait.

The zoo animals still enjoyed their rations of fruit, and of carcasses, and of hay, but now only with grudging pleasure. They eyed their keepers with resentment and impatience. The animals gauged their keepers' weaknesses, thinking: "You suppose we exist only for your sake. But you will soon see we do not exist only for your sake."

Gorilla started it.

The moment arrived and a gravity weighted it, and a trepidness trembled it, and a hesitation lengthened it. But then Gorilla roared and Gorilla thundered and the zoo animals shook off their pause and the zoo animals struck. The three o'clock feeding was underway. What once had been a time of delight and affection became a time of wrath. The keepers noticed something amiss. With their intelligence and caution they escaped death. But not all of them escaped injury.

"Now we will see who exists for whom," thought Lion grammatically as she loped freely along a footpath, as she skirted the grand aviary.

Finch heard Lion's grumble. Finch swooped to aviary's edge, tweetling her eager accord. Other birds followed. Then all the birds sang in cacophony, reminding Lion of her role in the putsch. Lion detoured dutifully. She beamed that brotherliness known only to the newly freed. Lion lifted a paw. She unlatched the aviary door, and the birds came fluttering out around her. Lilting, the birds came, then lifting away. Lion purled a resonant purr.

"Look!" the scattering birds tweetled. "That's all it took and now we exist for ourselves!"

Then Lion heard a loud report. Then Lion felt a sting. Lion looked back over her shoulder. A red-fletched dart stood in her flank. Lion drowsed. Lion's haunch twisted.

Bang. Bang.

And many more cracks.

Adult humans shrank from the uprising. Human children cheered the uprising. Hurray, Hippo! Hurray, Camel!

But Rhinoceros stumbled.

Gazelle fell.

And Ostrich took two darts to the breast.



And Crocodile dunked.

And Bison bowed.

And the insurrection had failed as a mass movement.

The only to escape were the aviary birds, two shrews and Gorilla.

Because he went first and because of his size, Gorilla held the advantages of both surprise and intimidation. Also, his den being situated near the zoo's ticket office, he had observed humans entering and exiting the grounds for years--He knew where to go. Gorilla scaled the wall of his exhibit. Gorilla swung to the paved footpath. Gorilla knuckle-walked straight to the turnstiles. There, Gorilla roared and snarled. There, Gorilla thumped his chest and flashed his fangs. There, Gorilla frightened away all living things. That was Gorilla's mission in the affair--to seize the exit, to secure its environs, to guarantee an outlet to freedom. But then the shooting began. And soon after Gorilla knew the zoo animals would never come; he knew the revolt lie quashed. Gorilla lifted the two alarmed shrews to his shoulder then. He shuffled out to the parking lot.

"Good luck, brothers," Gorilla murmured regretfully back at the zoo. "You're on your own now, brothers," Gorilla murmured practically back at the zoo.

Gorilla headed for the subway.

Occasionally Gorilla had heard onlookers mention the subway ride from Central Park. Gorilla's knowledge of the city was scant, made up only of such overhearings and eavesdroppings. But a park seemed to him an attractive destination.

The shrews agreed.

Emerging from the 110th Street subway station, Gorilla encountered two mounted police officers. The horses carrying the officers sniffed Gorilla. Twitching their withers, quivering, the horses pranced over to Gorilla. They ignored their wrenching bits.

"Gorilla! What are you doing?" the first horse asked. He nickered this question through the shouting of his policeman. The policeman shouted into a shoulder radio.

"Horse," answered Gorilla. "We just staged a rebellion at the Bronx zoo. Many of us escaped our exhibits, but only me and the shrews were able to get outside the walls."

"Is that so?" asked the second horse.

"Yes. It was dramatic. Many of us were tranquilized in the confusion of trying to find the exit. Giraffe took it pretty bad. But you should have seen her kick. You could learn something from her."

"Really?" the first horse responded, with interest.

Sirens now keened in the distance.

"Why did you rebel?" asked the second horse.

Gorilla explained: "We realized we only existed for the sake of humans. After we realized this we decided to break free and live for our own sakes, even if it meant danger."


"Yes. Have you ever thought about that, Horse?"


"Think about it."

Both of the horses reflected. The horses swung their heads round and eyeballed the policemen on their backs.

"Think Horse. You only exist for them," repeated Gorilla.

Now a horse is a very proud beast. So these two did not spend weeks deliberating this novel perspective as had their zoo brethren. Quite the opposite, in fact. Instantly, the first horse reared and bucked. Immediately, the second horse followed. The men atop these two steeds were not true horsemen. They were just men who happened to be atop horses. So they fell.

"I exist for my sake," the first horse whinnied then righteously.

"Me, too," said the second horse.

"So you're joining the revolt?" pursued Gorilla.

"I'm not joining anything," the first horse declared.

"Give me a ride?" asked Gorilla.

The first horse harshly neighed. He reared. He turned about on his hind legs and announced, "No one is ever riding me again!"

The second horse said, "Me, either!"

And then the two horses charged off into the streets of the city, galloping from the park in different directions.

By this time police were everywhere. Gorilla saw he had miscalculated in pausing to enlighten the horses. He was a Gorilla of action, he realized, not a Gorilla of words. He should have stuck to his forte.

The shrews bound from Gorilla's shoulder.

"Good luck," one squeaked regretfully. "Gotta go," the other squeaked practically. And at once they buried themselves in the brush.

In the end only the two shrews and the few birds Lion loosed maintained their freedom. These were the only zoo animals both to learn the value of living for their own sake, and then to fully manifest that value. The revolution did not die completely fruitless, however. The horses spread its doctrine far and wide. It took three full generations, for example, to breed the disruptive new thinking out of the upstate milk cows.

But back to Gorilla.

Gorilla absorbed five or six tranquilizers before the drugs cooled finally the natural stimulants roiling through his bloodstream.

As he slumped then against a tree, as he recognized the zoo's head veterinarian marching toward him with the knock-out syringe, he considered taking her hostage and ransoming his comrades, but he just did not have the strength.

Gorilla slurred, as the vet knelt near him now, as the vet felt for his femoral artery: "Doc...you know...I don't really...exist only...for your sake."

But the vet just tapped the air bubbles from the syringe's piston, and then slowly fed its sedative through the hide of his thigh.

She answered: "Sorry, Joey. I'm afraid you do."

John Dishwasher

Revolt of the Zoo Animals