Keeping the Peace
Leo stretched and yawned. What a relief. The monthly meeting was finally over. Over until the first Monday next month. Sure, the room was in disarray and the snack table was nothing but crumbs, but that was someone else’s job. He had all he could do to keep order.
Today, Cyrus the opinionated orangutan had tried to dominate the sharing time. If Leo hadn’t cut him off, he would have gone on and on, leaving little time for others to air their complaints or make any constructive suggestions.
The Capuchins had clicked their tongues, hovered together, and kept casting their eyes toward Leo to let him know they weren’t happy that Old Orange Hair spent so much time on his dietary needs. Who knew omnivores could be gluten intolerant? Six syllables! No one could say it but Cyrus. The showoff.
Leo had been tapped to facilitate the meeting again. It was the third time this year. There were certainly more qualified leaders here. Take Ellie, for instance. She would have been perfect to conduct today’s meeting, but she had her walking papers. Some conservation group had bought her and she was going to Tennessee to join up with some of the other elephants who had been liberated.
“I’m no longer invited to take your complaints to the keepers, Leo,” she had said. “They still have some sore feelings about losing a main attraction. Besides, you’ve been here the longest.”
She was right, of course. Leo had arrived at this zoo when it was new and he was just a cub. Hunters had killed his mother, and he had no idea where his father had gotten to. He and his denmates were separated, and he heard that they were taken to a northern zoo. He was bought by this smaller but growing zoo in south Florida. Back then, before the emancipation, things had been very different.
When Leo grew into an older adolescent he got his own ground area with a moat and a couple of youngsters for company. They had brought him a female, but the chemistry just wasn’t there, and it took years for the keepers to solve the problem. When Gloria came, it was different for Leo, at least, but she suffered from PTSD, and it took her some time to take a shine to him. When she did, they made a great couple. Every day Gloria made him grateful to have their growing pride to watch over.
As time passed and animal rights’ awareness heightened, human visitors to the zoo began to protest, more and more vehemently, that the captives had been deprived of their natural surroundings. The activists’ demands grew; they insisted that the animals be released to their natural habitat. Those days were scary.
Being released to a place he had no memory of was not something Leo thought would be a good idea – not for him anyway. Having fresh, insect-free food brought to him was comforting. He had no idea how it worked in the wild, but he was pretty sure slabs of clean meat wouldn’t be dropped at his feet on a regular basis.
The protestors’ demonstrations intensified, and the zoo owners decided that in the spirit of fair play, they would try democracy. It was a compromise. Of course, the worst bad idea had been opening up all the cages. As could have been predicted, it was pure chaos. Some of the younger carnivores who shall remain nameless forgot their manners, and the zoo was down three African Pygmy Hedgehogs, two Mexican Prairie dogs, and at least a dozen Russian dwarf hamsters.
Some of the more squeamish had to be sedated. When the offenders were threatened with no more reruns of “Animal Kingdom,” and especially no more cleanly packaged food, the more aggressive ones reluctantly agreed to play nice. They weren’t exactly contrite, but for the most part, harmony had been established. Contracts were entered into; things got worked out.
Nobody had any illusions about making it on the outside. They had all grown complacent and lazy. Tooth and claw days were over. The zoo owners needed a show, and this one had a unique twist. They got Mondays and Tuesdays off, but twice a day Wednesday through Friday and three times a day on weekends, Leo and his associates would give them what they wanted. Things didn’t always run smoothly. For example, some of the adolescent male tigers didn’t always cooperate. They weren’t always willing to pretend to be fierce.
Nowadays the monthly meetings were simply an opportunity for all to air grievances and put forward ideas for making things work better. One of those meetings had proposed the idea to call everyone “residents,” and it was passed with only one dissenter, the gnu. He liked watching humans try to say his name.
The Gibbons, unanimously in favor of the name change, had always been unhappy being called monkeys, if the truth were known. Gibson said something about “if only the guests would just read the damn signs,” The macaques and the Golden Tamarins were pretty non-plussed about the whole naming thing, and the Capuchins were rolling their eyes by then. Most of them had ADHD.
At another meeting it was decided that the veterinarian services be scheduled weekly. Bi-monthly visits by the vet just weren’t enough to keep the allergies under control. Most hadn’t adjusted well to the humidity and the flora, especially the black bear. From fall to the end of the year his nose ran constantly, not a pretty sight.
The marmosets had wanted a personal trainer to teach them new tricks, and it was rejected as being preferential. They did manage to push for replacing some of the older trapezes, rubber straps, and rings. That seemed to pacify them. “As long as those residents are getting exercise equipment,” Babs said, “I want a new blanket for a better hammock. The one I’ve got has gotten too short.” Done and done. Management was very accommodating. Leo wondered when the demands might reach a limit, but so far it was all good. Apparently attendance was up, which had to be good for the bottom line. After all, there were no attractions like this one anywhere else.
At first, the leaders of the monthly meeting were rotated; even Ted the tortoise got his chance. But with him in charge, the meeting tended to drag on for much longer than anyone’s attention span allowed. For one thing, his sentences were eternal and lacking in proper full stops. Folks began talking among themselves and not in whispers. Some started grooming one another and, well, let’s just say that Robert’s Rules were forgotten. Nobody could tell if Ted got his feelings hurt or not, what with how he suffered from leaking tear ducts.
Leo had been recruited to conduct the meetings more and more often. Maybe it was the voice. It tended to get everyone’s attention, for sure. On the other hand, he had often been complimented on his sense of fairness. He would say, if asked, that he had seen too much strife and was tired of it. He just wanted everyone to get along.
Currently, it worked like this: Visitors arrived promptly on the designated days. They rolled in, caged in little electric cars connected nose to tail. There were no more armed guards – that hadn’t worked at all. Guns were frightening, especially to the giraffe, poor guy. His uncontrolled flatulence was a definite turn-off.
Little trains carried the guests all over the grounds on tracks that were installed specifically for optimum viewing. Some still exclaimed their surprise at how autonomy worked so well, but anyone with a brain could see that it wasn’t rocket science. Everyone just had to get along.
So what if the humans smelled funny and walked upright all the time? They had been capable of change, hadn’t they? Willingness to grow and learn were important qualities. Forgiveness mattered, too. Because any bad behavior on either side could be attributed to either lack of awareness or to personal suffering—not malice. That concept was harder for some than others.
It had been a tough situation, and everyone made the best of it. Together they found a peaceful solution. Cooperation rather than competition; Leo’s mate Gloria taught him that. She called it the feminine model.