Recently over the August 26-29 weekend, London Zoo launched an inventive “Human Zoo” exhibit. The unexpected presentation was designed to show the basic nature of Homo sapiens as an animal and examine the impact that human beings have on the rest of the animal kingdom.
Eight volunteers were chosen from an online contest on the website of the Zoological Society of London. Chemist Tom Mahoney, 26, decided to participate after his friend sent him an e-mail about the contest as a joke. "A lot of people think humans are above other animals," he said. "When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds us that we're not that special."
Confined in a rocky enclosure similar to that inhabited by many other caged zoo animals, the humans, who were mainly in their twenties, were attended by experienced keepers.
A sign reading "Warning: Humans in their Natural Environment" introduced visitors to the exhibit and informed them about the species’ diet, habitat, worldwide distribution and the threats to its survival.
The captives were scantily clothed, wearing fig leaves pinned to bathing suits. Unlike their primate relatives, these zoo inhabitants were allowed home at the end of every day. Entertainment consisted of music, arts and games.
Sure it was original and amusing. But our lives are so complex that the exhibit was nothing more than a kitschy attempt to grab a unique headline. There was no basis in reality or meaningful cultural statement.
What if we really observed the modern-day social habits of single human specimens?
Lose the fig leaves and rocks. It would have made a more interesting statement to showcase these single models dressed in stylish urban black, sitting around a bar making small talk trying to pick each other up. After all, listening to trite pick-up lines followed by a flirtatious acceptance or a smug rejection makes for an entertaining observation of today’s reality for human singles.
Another vignette could have displayed a man and a woman each sitting in front of a computer checking out online profiles in their burning quest for a romantic union. A large screen TV could have shown the lies -- or shall we shall literary license subject to interpretation -- written in the attempt to make oneself desirable to a potential mate.
Still another view might have shown singles elbow-to-elbow in meat-market singles parties, after first standing in long lines waiting to pay $20 for the privilege of entering one of these bastions of the single kingdom.
The Human Zoo exhibit also didn’t sincerely show any impact of humans on the animal kingdom. The zoo might have presented a few women sporting fur coats while watching men beat minks and raccoons (fake, of course) with clubs. Or a bit of irony with humans within the enclosure standing in front of a cage with animals -- so we’d be looking at Homo sapien animals looking at jungle animals.
This exhibit seems to have been a modern interpretation of a provocative 1967 book, The Naked Ape, by Dr. Desmond Morris, a zoologist and former curator of mammals at London Zoo. His study described humans in the same way scientists describe animals. The book shed new light on our own behavior and society, describing our ways of "feeding, sleeping, fighting, mating and rearing young".
He detailed some interesting facts that weren’t exactly highlighted in the exhibit, such as:
* Homo sapiens not only have the biggest brain of all primates but also the largest penis.
* Our fleshy ear lobes, unique to humans, are erogenous zones that have been known to provoke orgasm in both males and females.
* The more rounded shape of human breasts means they are primarily a sexual signaling device rather than simply a milk machine.
If you’re interested in more in-depth similarities between humans and our primate cousins, the bonobos, read SavvyInsider.com’s article The Horniest Apes on Earth.
While the Human Zoo was an enterprising weekend attempt to portray single humans as just another animal group, we can all enjoy the same results by walking into a singles bar on any Friday night and observing the behavior firsthand.
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