Xmas Orca

Tidings of Comfort & Joy . . .

‘Xmas Luna’ is an orca of shining Christmas lights on English Bay. She’s 7 metres long, and she visits Vancouver at this time of year every year. She looks out over the beach to the Salish Sea. She’s seasonal and festive, and it’s that time of year, but she shows us less about orcas and more what we believe about them.

Xmas Luna would be frustrated if she looked for kindred in the ocean in front of her. There are only 74 resident orcas left, but Luna doesn’t seem at all concerned.

What if  Luna and the local orcas aren’t kin at all? They look somewhat similar, but this Luna is lying on her belly with her head in the air and her flukes to the sky. Millions of people have seen that pose–but they happen only in aqua-zoos. Wild orcas don’t do it.(1)

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Run Away!

Nyack’s Post Mortem

[Zuni, a lioness, killed Nyack, the lion, at the Indianapolis Zoo on October 22, 2018. The media describes the event–the information below is from public media–but these are his conjectural last reflections]

I tried to run away. Zuri was “aggressive”—even the humans knew that. I’m “submissive” and “laid back”—and I’m dead.

If we were on the savanna I wouldn’t be dead. I’d run. She’s fast and she’s my size, but I would be faster then. But we were in a zoo. There was nowhere to run. A cage is a cage is a cage.

How was I supposed to be courageous? The lion on the yellow brick road in the “Wizard of Oz” got to be brave just because he wished for it. I should be so lucky. I’ve lived in a zoo my whole life. Outside the zoo—in the wild—I would have learned to be arrogant and dominant because I would have fought all those aggressive young bastards who were after my “pride” of lionesses and cubs. I hardly have a pride here at all. My pride was only 1 lioness, Zuri, and 3 cubs. I would have done better outside.

People tell strange stories about me. They couldn’t account for my death because, after all, Zuri had been my “long term companion” for 8 years, and she and I had 3 cubs. So? They make it sound like we’re people. Male people generally have one wife. If people have a few kids they don’t usually kill each other, especially when a kid is in the room.

Should lions be like that? Put 2 lions and 3 cubs in a cage for years and years, and you might expect the unexpected. It’s ‘unexpected’ for people’s behaviour, of course. At least Packer, from the Lion Research Center, knew that “it’s something that can happen”, that “these animals are unpredictable moment to moment”.

The people at the zoo think my death is sad. Apparently I was “just like a family member.”

I would rather be treated like a lion.


Postcard above, nd (1940s?), depicts former practice of raising lions and dogs together to facilitate lion training.

All data is from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/lioness-killed-father-her-cubs-rare-attack-indianapolis-zoo-180970621/ and general information. The attitude is supplied by the editor.

Kiss Off!

Fiona is a famous artist. And she’s a hippopotamus. She was born at Cincinnati Zoo in January 2017, and she became an artist fast. Fiona was an adorable calf born 6 weeks early at 29 lb., but now, at 650 lbs, she’s become the resident hippo painter. But she’s entering a very busy art scene.

Young Fiona 2017

She’s only one of a surprising hoard of gifted zoo creatures.  Chimpanzees have painted for years. Elephants have done it for as long as even they can remember. Now dolphins do it, rhinos do it, penguins do it, even snakes and bugs do it. Woodland Zoo offers work by 36 different artist-animals. Houston Zoo offers art by lions, leopards and others for $250 each. (1) Rocky, the octopus at Point Defiance Zoo, certainly has huge production-potential. (2) Clearly Fiona’s art scene is crowded, so how does she survive.

Congo, Chimpanzee artists, London, 50

Zoo animals, clearly, can make a lot of art–and, if they are given treats, they will. People buy zoo art only because it’s made by animals. It is, of course, solipsistic that we value zoo art because animal-artists emulate humans. Their art has been a huge success, and this art market is very lucrative for zoos.

Is it that simple? Zoos strongly encourage animals to make art, zoos tell us that animal artists are not mere labourers in a profitable art industry. Apparently they are artists, and their lives are enhanced as they paint. An emerging artist-orangutan, Rudy, is currently “obsessed with painting” at the Houston Zoo.(3)

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