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Little Joe Young
September 30, 2003 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Little Joe waited at the bus stop before continuing his bid to escape the authorities. The 300-pound gorilla had just broken out of his Franklin Park Zoo enclosure for the second time in two months, overcoming a newly-installed electric fence, injuring two people and terrifying others. The gorilla was hit with four tranquilizer darts but had managed to pull at least one of them out. Little Joe's namesake reminds us that we've known for at least 70 years that big apes in the middle of cities can cause major problems. Why are they still there?
posted by soyjoy (32 comments total)

 
The 300-pound gorilla had just broken out of his Franklin Park Zoo enclosure ....

I imagine he's having trouble finding a place to crash. Sadly, if he'd only put on 200 pounds he could sleep anywhere he wants to.
posted by jonmc at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2003


".....sweet dreams, Little Joe - and when you grow up into a big, strong gorilla you'll climb a big tall skyscraper, just like your father."

* violins *
posted by troutfishing at 8:48 AM on September 30, 2003


Why are they still there?

Because fools pay money to see them and mankind has always valued money over the needs and safety of animals? Just a guess.
posted by dobbs at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2003


Why are they still there?

Why are people still there? I'll bet he has more space in his living wuarters than your average New Yorker.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:25 AM on September 30, 2003


Another homage to Warren Zevon. . .

Gorilla you're a desperado!

Good on him!
posted by Danf at 9:26 AM on September 30, 2003


Anyone recall when Otto (may he rest in peace) escaped from Lincoln Park zoo here in Chicago? A massive mountain gorilla, he caused much havoc on the zoo grounds, but I don't recall him making it out into the greater metropolitan area.

It happened sometime in the early 80's, I believe. My memories are dim regarding the actual event, but I remember thinking that it was quite extraordinary. Everyone who visited the ape house afterwards did so with some apprehension.
posted by aladfar at 9:37 AM on September 30, 2003


Because white people with money have long desired to see desperation, to see things in cages, to see things angry and lashing out, to see it all from afar. Witness the suburbs. Witness cable news. Witness zoos.
posted by xmutex at 9:52 AM on September 30, 2003


Some animals are delicious, so I eat them. Good, we need to eat. Some animals have skins that really keep me warm, so I wear them. Good, I need clothes. We've long since outgrown the need in the first world to harness the energy of animals, mostly, so yay for progress.

However, some animals are really quite interesting to look at and some cities suffered an inferiority complex in the 1800s and started building zoos like they were hair plugs or prosthetic penises. A lot of animals that had committed no crime were imprisoned and moved to hostile, intemperate, seasonally incompatible climates so people could look at them and Dublin and Chicago and Boston and New York and Washington and Toronto and and and could feel better about themselves.

That's why the zoos are there, and that's why everytime someone asks me if I want to go to the zoo I say no. Hopefully they'll go the way of freak shows and we can get back to the age old practice of wearing and eating animals instead of putting them in cages so they can fling their shit around and *horror of horrors* try to regain their freedom in the face of snot nosed brats in sweatsuits and ice cream stains.
posted by jon_kill at 9:56 AM on September 30, 2003


Xmutex, I've been to the Franklin Park Zoo, and the clientele isn't all "white". In fact, neither of the people injured were "white".
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 AM on September 30, 2003


Related? Another big animal poses a threat to public safety, is shot - this one fatally. "I don't know how many people cursed me to hell," said Sgt. Gary Hutcheson, who fired three shots from a 12-gauge shotgun.
posted by soyjoy at 10:18 AM on September 30, 2003


Little Joe waited at the bus stop before continuing his bid to escape the authorities.

And nobody thought to get a shot of it with one of those camera thingies? I thought they came free with phones these days.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:29 AM on September 30, 2003


Damned, dirty apes.

But seriously, when an animal twice escapes from a zoo (even after increased security precautions), you have to question not only our definitions of animal intelligence, but also the moral implications of keeping these sentient, emotional beings in captivity. While the argument could be made that they are probably better off under our "protected custody" than in the wild where they may be hunted to extinction, I'm sure a compromise can be reached between the needs of an expanding civilization, and the preservation of biological diversity.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:36 AM on September 30, 2003


And nobody thought to get a shot of it with one of those camera thingies?

mobloggers are too busy taking candid asspics.
posted by quonsar at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2003


Little Joe's namesake reminds us that we've known for at least 70 years...

Good thing you qualified that statement with a time span. I thought for a minute that the namesake link was going to take me to some place like this.
posted by alumshubby at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2003


Oh, come on - zoos aren’t all bad. They can serve as educational tools, and are a last defense against extinction. I think some animals are probably perfectly content to be in a zoo. Many of the things in the reptile house, for example. Even some of the mammals are probably okay with free food and no predators. The real problem is that many times zoos don’t provide their animals with enough space, companionship, interaction, or entertainment. Some zoos do a better job at this than others.

I agree, though, that some animals just shouldn’t be housed in an enclosure. Anything that either has a shorter lifespan when housed in captivity, escapes frequently, of occasionally goes batshit crazy shouldn’t be confined at all unless it’s on a huge national park or the like. Dolphins and whales, many upper primates, and elephants top this list, and it always makes me sad to see them locked up.
posted by Samsonov14 at 11:38 AM on September 30, 2003


Ape shall not kill Ape.
posted by stbalbach at 11:47 AM on September 30, 2003


Has anyone else read "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel recently? The narrator is the son of a zookeeper, and he states that most zoo-raised animals get very anxious when they are outside of their cages, and often escape only to try to get right back in their enclosures. (This has very little to do with the book's plot, but a lot to do with one of the main themes: religion versus spirituality.)
posted by pomegranate at 12:57 PM on September 30, 2003


As an example of a better environment for apes, I would point to Monkey World in the UK, which rescues apes (and at least one kind of monkey) from abusive environments and gives them lots of room to run around and large peer groups to socialize with.

There was an Animal Planet series about this place, which I watched avidly. Good people, doing the best they can for these animals who could not survive on their own in the wild.
posted by beth at 1:09 PM on September 30, 2003


Beth, there is also Gorilla Haven, funded in great part by the people who make this software.
posted by dobbs at 2:05 PM on September 30, 2003


Personally, I don't like to see captive animals. A lot of people apparently never get to see animals out side of such an exhibit, though. That doesn't make it right, I know. But it was interesting at the Michigan State Fair to watch the little kids (and even some adults) literally in awe when they got to pet a goat or a horse.



Some gorillas don't have it much better out in the wild - isn't there a big poacher problem these days?
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:23 PM on September 30, 2003


>Oh, come on - zoos aren’t all bad.
I agree. Zoos are the only place where the vast vast majority of people will see exotic animals. If zoos are done right, if they educate visitors and provide the animals with adequate facilities and care, they are not necessarily prisons. The underfunded road-side zoos are prisons; the circus/entertainment zoos are often prisons with enforced cardio workouts.

Our zoo gets a favourable rating in this report. I admit I am biased towards zoos because this facility is very good. I think in general (sub)urban people are disconnected from animals and from nature, so that all we see are seagulls and robins, domesticated pets and some insects. A good zoo will give something of that back to people, at least for the afternoon.
posted by philfromhavelock at 2:27 PM on September 30, 2003


Favorite quote from the article:

"I thought it was a guy with a big black jacket and a snorkel on."

A snorkel?!!!?!
posted by spacewaitress at 2:33 PM on September 30, 2003


You know what this story really shows, is the poor state of public transportation in the United States. How many times have you waited for a bus that never comes only to then get shot several times with tranquilizer darts? No wonder Americans love their cars so much.
posted by soren at 2:49 PM on September 30, 2003


Xmutex, I've been to the Franklin Park Zoo, and the clientele isn't all "white". In fact, neither of the people injured were "white".

But this is LeftFilter, where everything bad is the fault of whitey.
posted by HTuttle at 2:54 PM on September 30, 2003


Gorillas are still in captivity because they are what I've heard zoo administration-types call "charismatic mega-verts" and that's what brings in the money. We have a long way to go. Ivan, spent 27 yrs. alone in a cage in a mall in Tacoma until he was moved to a zoo in 1994. Jane Goodall continues to do good work for chimps and other primates and is working to end the trade in bushmeat. Also Primarily Primates rescues primates that are "retired" from research, roadside zoos, and pet owners.
posted by lobakgo at 4:08 PM on September 30, 2003


I heard on tv that he's reaching the age when male gorillas need to leave their nests/home/territory and establish themselves...he's an adolescent, and i bet his hormones are raging like ours do. Maybe there are no gorillas around the same age in his enclosure? Or there's already an established social hierarchy he's not satisfied with? In the wild he would be able to leave his group and find another, or create one.

I loved Life of Pi, pomegranate...i saw that as talking about territory--a recurring theme in the book--more than fear or nerves.

I wish zoos would fade away, or go virtual, or something. We can see animals on tv all the time, and with travel increasing every year, can often go to a wildlife park or sanctuary, lessening the need for local zoos--why not just 4 or 5 gigantic, state-of-the-art, humane, regional zoos in the US?
posted by amberglow at 4:28 PM on September 30, 2003


The narrator is the son of a zookeeper, and he states that most zoo-raised animals get very anxious when they are outside of their cages, and often escape only to try to get right back in their enclosures.

Sounds like they become institutionalised, just like humans can become. I find zoos to be really depressing places.
posted by lucien at 6:17 PM on September 30, 2003


Yeah, as John Irving indicated in Setting Free the Bears, once you start with a screwed-up situation it's not easily rectified by simply unlocking a cage.

And I too, lucien, find zoos really depressing. Always have, but like most children, I was constantly told what fun I was having seeing these exotic creatures sitting around bored out of their skulls or sullenly glaring at me. That's why I don't buy the "but zoos are educational" excuse. As amberglow indicated, there's plenty that can be learned now in much more vivid, interactive and multifarious ways than by looking at an animal removed from its natural situation and forcibly domesticated. Rather, I think what most kids learn at zoos is the same thing as the kids who were traumatized in the moose story above: They learn that animals are rightly subject to humans' will and to our whim, to live or die at our say-so, and that's the way it's gotta be.
posted by soyjoy at 6:52 PM on September 30, 2003


In defense of good zoos and conservation.

The potential role of zoos as agents of conservation has not always appealed to all conservationists. Essentially all that zoos can do is to preserve a population of animals in close captive management, while the real source of the problem, habitat destruction or over-exploitation, goes unchecked. A common argument against this form of species preservation goes like this: all the money invested and spent annually on zoos would be far better spent actually preserving habitats. Surprisingly, perhaps, few zoo people would dispute this fact. However, it is rather like arguing that all the money spent upon slimming aids would be better spent helping to alleviate world hunger. The alternative is an artificial one. The millions of zoo visitors world wide who pay good money for their day out are doubtless canvassed by conservation charaties for donations, but that is not how they choose to spend their money on a sunny weekend. We would do better to recognise that there are zoos that do spend our money wisely, and to direct our visits towards them. That is what this guide aims to help us do.

When habitats come under threat, it is invariably the bigger animals that go first because their demands upon the environment are the greatest. These are creatures that zoos are often in a position to help. Already there have been some astonishing successes. Without captive management we would no longer be sharing our planet with Pere David's deer, American or European bison, Przewalski's horse, Arabian or scimitar-homed oryx. Island species are also important candidates for captive conservation. Species saved include the Hawaiian goose, the Jamaican boa, and the Mauritius pink pigeon. Some re-introductions have already taken place, but in the short term we should not expect too many of these. After all, if animals have become extinct in a habitat, the reason for the extinction needs to be removed before the species can be returned. Nevertheless, good zoos have proven that they can be a reservoir for endangered species. Now they face up to their greatest challenge, to sustain up to two thousand species, in close management, perhaps for centuries.


Simply put, without zoos, it's entirely possible that mountain gorillas would go extinct within our lifetimes. Many larger vertebrates face the same fate, sometimes because they are harvested for products, sometimes because they are perceived as threats to humans or human agriculture, but mostly simply through habitat destruction.

No doubt the iron-cage era of zoos was, in retrospect, horrifying -- and probably continues in too many places (e.g. Kabul). But the last half of the 20th century saw incredible advances in zoo technology and mission, and those iron cages are mostly, today, replaced by faux habitats and animals are monitored to ensure they're getting mental stimulation as well as nutrition.

Animals-should-be-free is an empty principle when the freed animals have no place to live. Most zoos today accept their compromised role in a compromised world and many have a zeal that goes far beyond some kind of Foucaultian regimen of observation and control. It's better to see zoo animals in the same light as companion animals, except they aren't domesticated and don't live in our homes. Arguably, we may be breeding zoo-friendly species with little resemblance, over time, to their wild cousins, but then we have bred dogs into things far removed from the wolf as well, and only the fringe believes it's wrong to own a pet. I'm sure it's more boring for a dog to spend its days sleeping in the den, the highlight of its day the ride to school to pick up the kids yes, real example than spending its time out in the French bois hunting small game yes, appropriate breed history, but I don't feel guilty about keeping this animal. I don't think good zoos need feel guilty, either.
posted by dhartung at 9:43 PM on September 30, 2003


You know what this story really shows, is the poor state of public transportation in the United States. How many times have you waited for a bus that never comes only to then get shot several times with tranquilizer darts? No wonder Americans love their cars so much.

Best laugh I've had all day. Thanks, Soren.
posted by kayjay at 11:04 PM on September 30, 2003


dhartung, that's a very well-spoken defense, but there are a couple of glitches: First, the mission of conservation of a species or of individual animals in no way requires the display of those animals as spectacle in heavily populated urban areas, which is what zoos are by definition. The fact that people currently spend money on zoos is as relevant to the larger issue as saying the illegal drug trade should continue because that's where people are spending their money.

And secondly, the distinction between wild animals and domesticated animals is crucial and cannot be waved away. Domesticated breeds are largely incapable of living in the wild. It's our responsibility to care for them since our ancestors created this situation (on the other hand, there's no need for us to keep breeding them). Wild animals are a completely separate issue. If we create breeds that are compromised by captivity, it's our responsibility to push that situation as close to the natural, wild environment as can possibly be done.

And I wish I could sign on to that "iron cage days are over" idea (or "it's limited to places like Kabul"), but zoos are still to this day a mess. Every week there's another story about a major zoo being mismanaged to the detriment, and often the death, of its animal inhabitants. Our own zoo in Philadelphia is held up as a shining example of this "incredible advances in zoo technology" and had, just seven years ago, one of the most egregious tragedies ever, a preventable fire that killed 23 large primates.

Which brings me back around to the question of the post. I don't expect most people to agree with me on the question of zoos overall. Fine. But what rationale is there for sentencing someone like Little Joe, a near-cousin of our own species, to a life behind bars, risking more large scale trauma, destruction and lives? It's not a rhetorical question - that's the argument I want to hear.
posted by soyjoy at 7:22 AM on October 1, 2003


OK... not hearing much on that front... but I do hear that Zoos Are Too Small for Some Species and that "zoos should either drastically improve their conditions or stop keeping them altogether." Granted, Gorillas - not being carnivores don't fall within the specific parameters this study looked at, but this is quite a radical, and welcome, suggestion from mainstream biologists about our rights & responsibilities toward large animals.
posted by soyjoy at 9:47 AM on October 2, 2003


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