Sunday, March 23, 2008

Not Your Ordinary Easter Critters

Most folks go in for bunnies and chicks on Easter, and my kids like them just fine too. But this year, once the kids had hunted down all the hidden eggs, we went a bit wilder and celebrated with bonobos and leopards at the Columbus Zoo. I guess it's kind of a goofy way to spend the day, and judging from the crowds (or lack thereof) most people would seem to agree. But although temperatures weren't that much above freezing and the zoo was running sort of a minimalist program (no boat rides, no train rides, no ponies), the sun shone blindingly upon us and made me think this day has something to do with renewal after all, even for a hopeful agnostic like me.

The leopard was more wakeful than I've seen her in past visits. She performed a series of supple stretches that made me think it's not just domestic cats who are natural yogis. (Those shots got blurred, of course.)

The remarkable thing about this lovely leopard was how trustfully she appeared to look at me. Granted, our noisy kids had moseyed down the path, and she may have just been grateful for the quiet. But as you can see, she was looking straight at me, just a foot or two behind the glass, me with my camera pressed right up against it. I was talking to her, making those little psss-psss noises that Grey Kitty used to love, and giving her sympathetic looks. And so I convinced myself she recognized a cat lover. Either that, or she thought I might make a tasty Easter dinner.

With the bonobos, I was sure I wasn't just imagining that they wanted to communicate with us clunky homo sapiens. This one appears to be beckoning us to come closer, and while it might be partly an illusion that the camera caught, it also sums up the way they were interacting with us.

Here you can see how the bonobos' play wasn't just for its own sake; they were putting on a show, constantly aware of audience reaction. We watched, we laughed, they loved it.

Maybe someday I'll find a pretext to write more about bonobos, as a total non-expert who just admires them like crazy. They share more with us, genetically, than with gorillas. They're our next closest relatives. They have a sense of self, as evidenced by recognizing their own image in a mirror. (We saw a gorilla doing that today, using the powder compact of a young woman who said, slightly eccentrically, that she comes often to the zoo just so that the gorillas can use her mirror.) Bonobos form strong social communities and mother-child bonds. And as my two photos show, they have an awesome sense of humor.

But in some major ways, the bonobos have us beat. The males don't dominate the females; the bonobo gals stick together and just won't let the guys lord it over them. They play nicely: conflict and violence are rare. And they have oodles of sex - as you probably knew. They're the original "make love not war" species. Could it be they've got something to teach us war-plagued homo sapiens?

See, I said this zoo trip was somehow about renewal. Happy Easter!


Sugarmag said...

Seems like an appropriate way to spend Easter.

Sungold said...

Yeah, it was - surprisingly so! Happy belated Easter to you, Sugar Mag. Hope you're all feeling *much* better today.

Smirking Cat said...

I'm convinced cats have a "cat person" sensor! Sometimes it's to mosey up to the person most likely to pet them, love on them, and spoil them; and sometimes it's to zero in on the NON-cat-person just to aggravate them.

Sugarmag said...

I had to laugh at what you said, Smirking Cat, because I ma not a cat person and I just don't understand cats. I have met some cats that I've liked, but I am generally a little afraid of cats because sometimes when I pet them they will reach out with claws and scratch me, and this is while they seem to like that I'm petting them. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more readable (to me). Aggressive dogs can be scary, but it is really obvious if a dog is approachable or not.

Sungold said...

Sugar Mag, it's never too late! I was already in my early 20s when Grey Kitty turned me into a cat person. She gave me no choice.

Smirking Cat, you're absolutely right about that sensor. Similar to selecting the non-cat person, they've been known to pick out the one person in a room who's allergic. I swear it's just to be contrary.