Friday, November 12, 2010

A Zoo Visitor and His Finger Are Soon Parted

A Zoo Visitor and His Finger Are Soon Parted

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are replacing his current column with one from 2004. Let's see if anyone notices.

Although I try to pretend otherwise, anyone who knew me will tell you that I was a rabble-rousing little terror who got into all sorts of trouble.

"A heller!" my grandmother shouts during one of her flashbacks.

My father is a psychology professor at Ball State University, and he was sometimes able to subtly control my behavior. Of course, this lead to some unfortunate incidents. Like the time I was four years old, my dad got me to stick my finger in a rat cage.

He did this by taking me to his department's rat lab, looking me straight in the eye, and with all seriousness and concern, said, "Whatever you do, don't stick your finger in the rat cage."

At that instant, any thought of not sticking my finger in the rat cage was replaced with "what will happen if I stick my finger in the rat cage?"

This was immediately answered by the rat who lived there, when he bit me on the finger. And as if being bitten wasn't bad enough, I was then taken to the emergency room for a tetanus shot, administered right on my butt.

Meanwhile the rat — being a psychology rat — was enrolled in an outpatient treatment program for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Or it was tested for rabies, I can never remember.

I was reminded of this incident when I was alerted to an Associated Press story by my friend and fellow humor writer, Jennifer Layton.

According to the Associated Press, zoo keepers from the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico have banned a frequent zoo visitor for life, after finding his finger outside a jaguar exhibit.

A groundskeeper saw a man with blood on his pants, and asked if he was okay, but the man ran off. A little while later, the man's finger was found outside the cage of Manchas the jaguar.

It would be irresponsible of me not to call him "Munches" now.

Officials tracked the man down through his New Mexico Zoological Society pass, which wasn't that hard since only four people bought one. However, his name was not released by officials, so I'll just call him Stumpy.

It seems that Stumpy was intrigued by Munches the jaguar, and most likely stuck his finger in the cage. So Munches, doing what jaguars do best, bit him.

When I read the story, I was worried that my father had begun using his powers for evil, but a quick phone call confirmed that he hadn't been to New Mexico since the late 1970s.

According to the article, zoo director Ray Darnell said they telephoned Stumpy to ask if he was missing any fingers.

Darnell: Hello, Mr. Johnson, this is Ray Darnell of the Rio Grande Zoo. Funny story. We were cleaning out the jaguar cage and found a finger. We were wondering if it was yours.

Mr. Johnson: Let me see. . . 7, 8, 9, uhhh, 10. Nope, they're all here. Yesiree, I have all nine — I MEAN TEN! — of my fingers.

Darnell: Are you sure? The police fingerprinted it and determined it belonged to you.

Mr. Johnson: No, not me. Must be my twin brother's.

Police went to Stumpy's house and confirmed that he was, in fact, the former owner of the missing finger.

So zoo officials banned Stumpy because "you just can't take the risk," Darnell told the AP. Although I don't know who faces the bigger risk, Stumpy or Munches.

According to the zoo's general curator, Tom Silva, this is the only case he knows of where a zoo visitor was injured by an animal. However, a few years ago, a temporary employee lost the tip of one of his fingers, which was found later in — say it with me — Munches' den.

This makes me wonder what it is about Munches the jaguar that makes people want to stick their fingers in his cage. It would be easy to understand if it were Dave Barry, since he's made his entire career out of sticking his finger in his nose and then writing about what he finds. But instead, these are people who are somehow hypnotized by the big cat to stick their fingers in his cage. That, or they're the kinds of people who usually preface their stunts with "hey y'all, watch this!"

In either case, I think Munches needs to be removed from the Rio Grande Zoo and placed somewhere where no one would care who he eats.

I hear "Survivor Island" is nice this time of year.

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