Humans Bear All at London Zoo


Aug. 29, 2005— -- It's a zoo out there for most city dwellers who deal with the crowds, hellish commutes and countless hours at work.

For eight Londoners, it's a zoo at home, too.

Donning nothing but fig leaves, three men and five females take their place next to the lions, giraffes and lizards, as part of a four-day exhibit showing off Homo Sapiens -- plain old people like you and me -- at the London Zoo.

"We wanted to find a way to show the impact humans have on the planet in a very visual way," said Simon Raynor, head of communications for the Zoological Society of London.

The exhibit opened Friday and closed today. The zoo picked one of its busiest holiday weekends to showcase the frolicking men and women. For four days, visitors ogled snakes, snapped pictures of bears, and then checked out the humans.

Raynor said that when the exhibit opened Friday, zoo-goers were generally puzzled and amused to see their fellow humans in the enclosure. But then he said they seemed to realize there was a more profound message. "More humans are born every day than there are gorillas in the world," he said. "We are almost like a plague on the planet."

So to raise awareness and engage people about conservation, the Zoological Society created the "human zoo" in the space that is usually occupied by sloth bears fittingly called Bear Mountain.

Once the idea was floated, the zoo needed exhibitionists to bear all -- or almost all -- for the exhibition. More than 100 applications pored in, with each person stating in 50 words or less why they wanted to flaunt their stuff and live in the wild.

Brendan Carr, a 25-year-old actor, probably made the cut for his catchy jingle, "I'm funky like a monkey and as cool as a cat, talk more like a parrot, up all night like a bat."

Anna Westbury, 27, a zoology student specializing in gorillas, said she wanted to find out what it's like for animals who live in zoos.

Well, she knows now as she interacts with her peers atop the zoo's Bear Mountain, getting checked out by camera-toting tourists. Ticket sales were expected to double, considering the controversy over what some deemed a "racy" and "inappropriate" exhibit.

Raynor noted the zoo had given the volunteers the option to wear skin-toned bathing suits. (Only one person accepted.)

The eight volunteers didn't have to forage or hunt for food. They got the same treatment all animals get, Raynor said. That means regular meals and what the zoo calls, "behavioral enrichment activities."

On the agenda to enrich the humans: hula hoop, yoga and aerobics, Raynor explained. It's not all about brawn either. To keep their mental acuity, zookeepers assigned math problems to each volunteer.

The algebra formulas seemed to keep the monkeying around to a minimum.

Meanwhile, as zoo visitors watched the group, they also read up on the species Homo Sapiens with a sign: "Warning: Humans in their Natural Environment."

There are more than 6.3 billion humans worldwide, with a heavy concentration in China, India and Europe. The human diet consists of meat, fish, animal products, grains, fruit and vegetables.

The basic theme was that humans are slowly crowding out the planet's other inhabitants.

The Homo Sapiens on display, clocking in eight hours at the zoo each day, had no chance to crowd out their neighbors. The volunteers had no tools, no weapons or protection. But the going didn't get too tough, considering that the Tarzans and Janes of the zoo went home every night for a hot shower and a comfy bed.

The primates in the show lucked out with a sunny, warm weekend, no need for "jumpers," or "slickers."One volunteer didn't seem to worry about the possibility of cold weather. He had brought Pocket Scrabble in case he got bored.

Don't expect this stateside just yet. Both the San Diego Zoo and New York City's Bronx Zoo said that they had no intention of showcasing humans along with their other animals.

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