Who, if anyone, will benefit from Michael Jackson’s death? The obvious answer is TMZ, the Web and TV tabloid organization that was supposedly legitimized by their breaking the news that the King of Pop was indeed dead. The more obscure answer is the Center for Great Apes in central Florida.

It’s not that anyone welcomed the news. It’s just that the Center is the current home of Bubbles. Everybody remembers Jackson’s pet chimpanzee, who appeared with the singer in the ’80s. But nobody really knows whatever happened to him. In the wake of the singer’s death, rumors circulated that Bubbles was a plastinated display in Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibit in London (and that Jackson had plans to join him). But Bubbles was actually still very much alive, and still in the States.

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None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used by any State or local government, or any private entity, for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool. – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (or, The Stimulus Bill)

When the oldest zoo in America was planning its 150th anniversary, it probably never thought Congress would compare it to a casino just weeks before the celebration. Such was the case for the Philadelphia Zoo, which marked its sesquicentennial this past weekend. The issue isn’t access to the stimulus funds (though that couldn’t hurt), but more the implication that, like swimming, golfing, and gambling, zoogoing is nice but not necessary.

So maybe it’s appropriate that the zoo’s party was thematically more about looking to its past than… More…

 

Once, at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., I watched an orangutan vomit on the glass wall of its enclosure. I was standing next to a group of schoolchildren, and they laughed in response. Then the primate stuck out its tongue, pressed it to the glass, and dragged it through the vomit. The children screamed. We moved to the next exhibit, where this same group and I watched a gorilla stick its finger first into its anus, and then into its mouth. As one can probably guess, the schoolkids went berserk.

This happened a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I recently attended a meeting on zoo animal obesity that I learned these separate-but-equally-unappealing behaviors have scientific names: regurgitation and reingestion, and coprophagy, respectively. The conference was the Crissey Zoological Nutrition Symposium, held at North Carolina State… More…

 

The Bronx Zoo’s historic Lion House is no more. The 1903 Beaux-Arts building still stands, but the felines long ago moved on to greener pastures beyond the zoo’s original Astor Court; their expulsion was recently made permanent with the opening of Madagascar! in the great cats’ former haunts.

Madagascar! represents everything a modern zoo aspires to be. The new exhibit celebrates biodiversity and trumpets a message of conservation and scientific leadership, from the zoo’s role in establishing nature reserves on the island nation to “eco-friendly building features such as hi-tech skylights and water recycling.” It was able to get Bank of America to pony up financial support for the month-long opening celebration. And with that official explanation point, it may have doomed quaint but less evocative exhibit titles like World of Reptiles, Sea Bird Aviary, and Mouse House.

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