National Geographic : 1953 Jun
The National Geographic Magazine was reaching up to put a peanut into the open maw of Marmaduke, the 700-pound tortoise. "We soon get to know which people are too wild to be trusted with our animals," Graves said. "But if you try to shut the tame ones off from rubbing noses with their favorite creatures, you might as well close the zoo." First Aid for Nipped Fingers All the really dangerous exhibits are zoned and labeled. Even so, the zoo's first-aid booth handles an average of more than a hun dred cases a day, minor cautionary nips and knockdowns being considered part of the learn ing process as people and beasts get to know each other. Naturally, the keepers themselves seldom suffer "occupational injuries." They know and are known by-their pets far too well. "Some people have had a tooth knocked out doing this," said head keeper A. J. Woods of the Bird House as he placed a cherry between his lips and turned his face up toward Baby, an Indian great hornbill (page 786). The huge black-white-and-buff bird, with a beak almost a foot long, snatched the fruit from his mouth; but, at a word, reluctantly replaced it. "The dangerous bit is when she changes her mind just after she's given it back," Woods said. "That beak can do a lot of damage, accidental like. "But Baby and I are good friends. We both came to the zoo in 1923; and I think she likes me." He tossed the cherry in the air for Baby to field. "She hasn't missed a catch yet." He threw several more, left and right, up and down; the reaching beak was as dependable as Joe DiMaggio's glove. Pickpocket with Four Hands "I've been living with monkeys so long I think the way they think," panted head keeper Laurie Smith of the Monkey House, "but I just can't move fast enough." A moment before, Smith had wrestled an other visitor's breast-pocket handkerchief back from Mr. Jiggs, a red-haired orangutan (page 785). "I could see that kerchief was going to catch his fancy; but he can pick a pocket quicker than either you or I can stop him," continued Smith a bit breathlessly. "You have to re member that they've got four hands." Mr. Jiggs had not varied his pensive, Bus ter Keatonish expression one iota. "He likes to think of himself as a ladies' man," Smith grinned. We had already seen that nothing pleased Mr. Jiggs more than to have his picture taken out on the lawn, arms around any pretty girl he could persuade to pose with him. But whenever he started to walk the young lady back toward his cage, a keeper was always there to intervene. No wonder Mr. Jiggs looked pensive. Guy, a 6-year-old, 150-pound gorilla, had also gone a round with Smith that morning, uttering low gorilla chuckles as he and his friend rolled over and over across the floor. "He has a ticklish spot on the back of his neck, and if I lay one finger there, he's almost helpless," Smith explained. "But in another few weeks at the rate he's growing, Guy is going to be far too big for me or anyone else to wrestle with." "But what would you do if you were really caught?" we asked. Steel "Snake" for Defense "If I want to make him release me, I always can," said Smith. "I don't like to frighten him, so I won't get too close. But watch this." He took from a handy shelf a foot-long piece of black steel spring. It wriggled in his hand like something alive, and the young gorilla instantly retreated toward the far corner. "He thinks it's a snake," Smith explained. "He's never seen one, of course, but the jungle instinct is there." * As we turned to go, four simian voices rose in protest. "They know I haven't yet given them their elevenses," said Smith. He turned a key in a door and was suddenly buried under leaping chimpanzees. Brother Compo and sisters So-So, Susan, and Sally rapidly disentwined themselves when Smith asked where their cups were. Then they lined up contentedly, mugs in hairy hands, as he poured them out their morning milk. "You don't have to teach them any tricks," said Smith. "They know too many of their own already. Watch this." He held out his key ring, which had a dozen keys. So-So took but a moment to select the one that would unlock her cage door. Since arriving from Sierra Leone in 1948, Sally, So-So, Susan, and Compo have solemnly burlesqued England's teatime manner, enter taining an audience totaling a million or so at some 500 of the zoo's famed chimpanzee tea parties (page 773). But even chimpanzee children eventually grow up. On a wintry evening late last year in the BBC's Lime Grove studios, I watched three of this beguiling foursome give their final public tea party before the television cameras. Susan was indisposed; but brother Compo * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Man's Closest Counterparts (Apes)," August 1940, and "Monkey Folk," May, 1938, both by William M. Mann.