When it was time to leave the zoo I sat near the giant aviary that is close to the entrance, waiting for my wife, Alice and our coworker Ivy to come back from the comfort room. I was close enough to the aviary to hear a group of eagles, flamingos and storks talking. They don’t move their lips or bills, but you can hear them if you listen closely.
They were very angry. The zoo was shabby, they claimed, and the food was not adequate. Worst of all, some zookeepers were cruel. The animals were going to take action. I heard the word corruption repeated several times. I leaned so close to hear that a stork said to me: “If you are really interested, hang around. We will have a meeting by Mali’s enclosure.” My wife and Ivy returned and we decided to hide somewhere and later on join the animals at their meeting.
There were close to 50 animals in a big circle. Their complaints went beyond food, shabby quarters and corruption. Mali complained she was the only elephant in the zoo, the only member of her species. “I am desperately lonely,” she said.
The overweight lady hippopotamus told the animals how ashamed she was when the visitors came and saw her. “I’m a mess. Look at my tail; is that a fitting tail for the only lady hippo in the zoo?” She turned her huge rear in a circle so they could all see the tail. It had only five or six long strings of hair. “Is that tail something you want tourists to see?” She seemed to imply the success of the zoo depended on the state of her tail. From the rear it looked like a giant guitar with busted strings. “We need personal caretakers and beauticians,” she said.
The oldest deer in the zoo told the group in the sad voice of old deer: “They are all gone—the lions, leopards, rhinos, giraffes. They are no more, but their cages are still there and empty, like gravestones. We’re dying off one by one, and we are not replaced. I see no future for us. Empty cages grow in number. We are near the end.”
Then the stork I had talked with earlier moved to the center of the circle of animals and began to outline the action plans. They would kidnap five zoo workers when they came to feed the animals on Sunday. They would issue their list of demands, and if the authorities didn’t give in, they would feed the keepers to the tigers and the crocodiles. I noticed the crocodiles and tigers didn’t look so enthusiastic about this food.
The eagle read the list of demands. It included calls for better food, better cleaning of their cages, and an end to corruption. “Any others?” the eagle asked.
Mali said, “We need babies. We elephants need babies. We don’t make sense without them.”
“We need flowers,” the deer said.
“We need to discuss all those empty cages.” A ghost-like voice called from a tree. I think it was the red-faced Japanese monkey.
The eagle conferred with the storks and flamingos. Then he told the animals. “We’ll get to all of that—the babies and flowers and deaths and all that other stuff, but now we need unity. Let’s get those zookeepers.”
When I heard this brush-off of the older animals, I began to worry. Whenever I hear a leader say, “Not now; we’ll get to your problem later,” I begin to worry. Remember “Animal Farm” and how the pigs manipulated all the animals?
“No, no,” Mali said. “We have to discuss these things now. I am afraid if we don’t, we will forget about them.” There were several shouts of approval.
“OK,” the eagle said and the meeting went on long into the night. They discussed everything all over again and wound up with a list of demands that ran to several pages. The animals knew in their bones that democracy and solidarity must begin on day one or they never take root.
Then I heard the eagle call our names. He was inviting Alice, Ivy and myself to talk at the meeting.
I told the animals how impressed I was with the way they carried out their meeting. I told them humans had a lot to learn from them, especially their willingness to work on everyone’s problems and not just those of the more articulate.
I suggested that they not threaten to feed the keepers to the tigers and crocodiles, since they would need the support of humans when it comes to the negotiations. Everyone needs allies. Anyway I’m not sure, I said, our tigers and crocodiles are eager to eat them. Alice and Ivy spoke in a similar congratulatory manner. Then the animals went home: tigers and deer side by side, crocodiles and monkey, those who had spoken and those who had been silent. They helped Mali back into her enclosure. What a job that was! They assured the lady hippo she looked very nice the way she was.
They cared for one another and worked to solve one another’s problems, and they will succeed, we believe.
* * *
We all have problems—whether we are rich or poor, old or young, good-looking or not. If we work together, give and take, compromise with one another and encourage one another, we can end pork barrel scams, find other ways to help the poor, and create a country of justice and peace. We can be as wise as the animals.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (firstname.lastname@example.org).