Julia S. Mekler, Ross University
Foot In Mouth, Winner
Today was a day I will remember for the rest of my life. Today I received my first (and hopefully not last) kiss from an orangutan. It was through the glass, but it still counts, and actually, it happened several times. I have to admit, however, that she wasn't all that into it... Because all she wanted was my boyfriend.
Backtracking for the sake of context, this morning we left Salzburg and took the train to Vienna. It was already late afternoon when Kev and I arrived, so we thought we'd wander around the Schonbrun grounds and go to the zoo, which is the oldest continuous zoo in the world. We hadn't planned to visit 'cause their main attraction is the orangutans, and we didn't want to see them in an enclosure, but we loved the Salzburg Zoo, and I've come to understand that a lot of these critters were rescued from bad situations, and that a wealthy, progressive society like that of Austria does well by its zoo animals. The Vienna Zoo is on the actual palace grounds, and the exteriors of many of the animal habitats are designed in the style of the Schonbrun palace, in these elegant Hapsburg structures you'd never think you'd find at a zoo. We saw a panda, including a baby, some hippos, some wild South American pigs called collared peccaries (with newborn babies in tow), King and Macaroni penguins, Emperor tamarinds (the ones with the big mustaches), Red Ruffed lemurs, and many other critters. We saw a couple of sea lions having an argument that's well-known throughout the animal kingdom: One inched its way over to the other in the hopes of covertly sneaking a snuggle, but the would-be snugglee wouldn't have it, roared, and hopped off their sunbathing rock into the water, leaving the snuggler to nap all alone.
Finally we made our way to the "Orang-erie," as it's called, and were very pleasantly surprised to see that the enclosure was both indoor and outdoor and absolutely enormous - the four orangutans have their own wing of the zoo. When we first entered the Orang-erie, the male approached some children in this little viewing corner; he sat down with them and made some really soulful eye contact through the glass. Kev and I were trying to push through the kids as much as was appropriate for adults without children in tow. The kids didn't seem to realize how special this kind of contact was; they took flash-photo after flash-photo (mostly of each other making "monkey faces"), and after not too long the ape lost interest and sauntered away. Kev and I found another viewing nook - one without kids - and parked ourselves there. Soon a female approached us... And knocked on the glass. We were completely stunned. She kept knocking and pointing and knocking and pointing, and we pretty much went into a panic trying to figure out what she wanted so that we could provide it for her and keep her there forever. We were sitting cross-legged on the floor, and she was pointing at what I thought were Kev's feet; I kept taking off his shoes to show them to her, but was only met by another knock and point. Then I tried to get him to take off his socks; when he wouldn't, I took off mine, and offered her the soles of my feet. I emptied the contents of my bag and combed my hair with my brush, showed her my iPhone, offered her anything and everything I could think of. Some interest, but what she wanted was something only Kevin could give her. Finally I thought, "Is she pointing at his bum?" I suggested he get up and turn himself around. He did, and she stood up, took a step back, and really, really checked out the goods. Once that was over, he sat back down, but she wanted what was in front; he was wearing shorts, and she tried to entice him to pull them farther and farther up his thighs. Apparently I'd been very naive to the ways of the orangutan, 'cause Kev whispered to me that he'd realized this from the first minute... It had taken me twenty. In between all this I got in a few window kisses, which she must've figured was the price she had to pay to see the male parts she was asking for. We stayed with her till the zoo keeper fed them dinner and kicked us out. He confirmed that the ladies often ask to see adult human man-parts.
Animals in zoos usually seem desensitized to the constant stream of visitors. I haven't encountered too many apes - just gorillas at the Bronx Zoo, I think, but they didn't interact with their human guests. This was probably the single most incredible interaction I've ever had with an animal. Though poor Kev has now been left wondering if he would've measured up to the orangutan's expectations.