Radio Lab explores animals, specifically animals and people coming together. In a cruel trick of evolution, humans can stand just three feet from a ferocious animal and still be perfectly safe. This hour, Radiolab goes to the zoo.
What’s with our need to get close to “wildness”? We examine where we stand in this paradox–starting with the Romans, and ending in the wilds of Belize, staring into the eyes of a wild jaguar.
Is there such thing as a good cage? Happy gorillas, deft landscape architects, and neurologists show us that there just might be. We go back to the late 1970s to relive the moment when zoos began to change. Literally, the moment, that the modern zoo was born, as embodied by a few tentative steps of a gorilla named Kiki. That story told by zoo director David Hancocks, architect Grant Jones, and gorilla keeper Violet Sunde. Then we’ll hear about work done by neuroscientists Elizabeth Gould at Princeton and Fernando Nottebohm at Rockefeller who are looking into the brain to see the effects of living in a cage.
Wanted: Meat. Preferably alive. That is, if you’re a carnivore. But most carnivores in zoos find themselves being fed something more along the lines of a hamburger… or in zoo lingo “a meatsicle.” And like in the movie “Supersize Me,” the result of this diet is a bunch of overweight, lethargic, unhappy animals lying around in the zoo. So, a new wave of zoo reformers are suggesting that to make these caged carnivores happy, we should be feeding them whole carcasses, or better yet, whole live animals. We visit two zoos who are trying to recreate this gory element of wildness, and see how visitors feel about watching it. First up, NPR Science reporter Nell Boyce takes us carcass-tossin’ at the Toledo Zoo. And then we follow reporter Jocelyn Ford onto a bus in China where hungry lions lick their chops at the squawking cargo. The question here is just how far will we go to be ‘humane’, and when does it get us right back to a point dangerously close to the Romans?
We end the hour with the story of boy who feels great sadness at the zoo. He doesn’t like cages so he sets out to dedicate his life to keeping animals in the wild. In the end though, he’ll find himself back at the zoo, as a zoo employee, to accomplish his mission. ‘Jaguar Man,’ Alan Rabinowitz, tells us how his story of making a promise to a big cat, and traveling deep into the Belize jungle to fulfill it.
Main photo credit: (oskarn/flickr)