So I went to do a run of shows and festivals in Australia, shortly after the whole 'Harambe' incident and found myself longing to go to the local Koala sanctuary 30 mins outside Brisbane. Now I'm a card carrying animal lover, more importantly I'm an animal respecter and I always find myself torn between the absolute joy of seeing protected animals in an 'open' environment up close and personal and feeling like an ugly voyeur. I've always felt guilty looking into the eyes of a caged ape, like a criminal actually, staring into the face of my fellow primate like a Victorian at a freak show. I'm not MENSA material, but even as a child I couldn't quite understand why there wasn't one way glass for us to gawk behind instead of bars and prison-like enclosures. I wonder how YOU'D feel making breakfast in the morning, having a bath (or god forbid a number 2), whilst being watched by hundreds of over excitable mammals, pointing, staring, impersonating, belittling (don't ask me, I'm an entertainer so I need to be stared at). Why do we like to treat wild animals like pets then punish them for acting wild? Oh that's right, 'cause we're superior beings with the big brains and all that good stuff...the ones that are single-handedly destroying the planet thinking that it's ours to do with as we wish. But I digress... back to Oz.
So we went to the Koala sanctuary, me and my musicians and before you could whittle a boomerang I was holding a juvenile female in my arms. 'Jazz' was a little suspicious of me, I couldn't blame her. I was as nervous as a new mother holding my week old bundle of eucalyptus filled joy. I stood statue still, my arms formed like a tense hammock. The handlers were protective and keen to point out 'Jazz' can only work for 30mins, then it's back to sleep for her. Photos were taken and the next nervous musician stepped forward. Jazz didn't like him at all, she refused to be held and pointed her quite impressive claws towards his face. My friend wasn't calm enough we were told and Jazz was repositioned only to freak out (albeit very slowly) again. At this point, guilt-ridden at treating a wild animal like a stuffed bear from FAO Schwartz, 'Byron', a male juvenile was brought forth to pose with us. Thankfully this big boy latched on like a pro and we quickly took our pics and went in search of roos.
The kangaroo field was filled with bouncing beauties, as well as with diminutive wallaby's and terrifyingly large emus. Armed with our 'roo food' we fed, relaxed with and petted these pouched sun worshipers. Larger and more volatile male roo's (they come with a clawed middle toe that can disembowel) were behind a chain linked fence for our safety and for a moment I was beginning to think that perhaps the T's had been crossed and all we animals, were co-existing in peace and harmony. That was until I happened to notice the over-dressed couple...he weighed down by numerous cameras, she straddling an emu. That's right, having spotted the giant sleeping bird nestled on the ground, the demented duo saw the perfect photo opportunity. I saw her mounting the back of the bird as if to ride it in the Kentucky Derby and at that point prayed it would wake up and peck her to death. No such luck, the bird merely sat in resigned humiliation until my friend served the jockey tourist with blood curdling vitriol. We even shopped the couple to the Steve Irwin look-a-like staff, but they weren't surprised. "Happens all the time" they said, equally resigned. I didn't feel so superior myself mind you, after all I'd gone there determined to hold a koala in my arms come hell or high water, what did I care if he/she had Chlamydia?
And that's exactly why we need 1 way glass in our zoos, to protect them from us. We can't be trusted you see, we just want to anthropomorphise them or play with them like toys, or ride them, or kill them if they scare us. I'm entirely certain that of the emu had pecked the woman's face it would have been shot.
'Harambe' was our responsibility, we were meant to protect him, since destroying his habitat. And please don't tell me "you know how kids are", (if I'd misbehaved ANYWHERE as a kid my father would have thrown me into the bloody enclosure, plus my mother would never have let go of my hand), "it was an unforeseen tragedy" blah, blah, blah... I go to museums all the time and god forbid if you step too close to the art or point at a canvas. Barking protectors appear from thin air to warn and berate you. A friend of mine just went to see the shuttle on display and was shouted out for not controlling his daughter (she tried to touch it). Not so with animals though. I suppose if it isn't man made and worth millions it doesn't get the same security contract. If only there'd been a uniformed guard or guard dog, or a trip wire and alarm around the 'Harambe' enclosure, we wouldn't have had to endure yet another act of human negligence.
I loved my time in Australia and especially that day at Lone Pine Koala sanctuary. I'm glad I didn't feel entirely relaxed there, more aware that I was with wild animals, in their environment and probably shouldn't have been there. I'll probably remember the emu incident long after other memories have faded and I'm glad of that, not only for its pure entertainment value, but as a metaphor for we human animals and our sense of dominion over this planet. The emu is after all a descendant of the dinosaur, those pea brained giants who ruled for 150 million years. Ancient man lasted 200,000 years. Civilised man will be lucky to reach 6,000.
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