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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Fourth Generation Zoo

‘Hello Mr Springer. Thank you for coming to this job interview at our Zoological Park. What type of animal were you hoping to be?’

‘Animal? I assumed I was applying to be a keeper or to work in the zoo shop or perhaps to help with the children’s railway?’

‘There must have been a misunderstanding. All our human posts are currently filled. We’re recruiting today for a lion, four bears, a couple of orangutans and a kangaroo – or rather for people to wear those costumes.’

‘I thought you got real animals from the wild or from other zoos?’

‘Not any more. This is a fourth generation zoo.’

‘Fourth generation?’

‘That’s right. First generation zoos were just menageries, and they became politically incorrect together with animal acts in circuses. Second generation zoos ran breeding programmes for endangered species and so couldn’t be accused of just exhibiting for entertainment. Those zoos fell out of favour when third generation breeding programmes were set up in the wild. Unfortunately, zoos without animals would have caused a curtailment of public interest, and hence funding. Thus fourth generation zoos were born.’

‘Are you saying that all animals in British zoos are really people in costumes?’

‘Yes. Advances in animatronics and the sophisticated design of the suits mean that no member of the public has ever noticed.’

‘Well, I was certainly fooled. Though, now you come to mention it, I’d wondered why all zoo animals tended to be person sized.’

‘Yes, that has been a problem, although the children love the giant rabbits. Would you still like to apply?’

‘Possibly. What’s involved in being a zoo animal?’

‘It depends on the animal. Can you climb trees?’

‘I’m frightened of heights.’

‘Better give the orangutan a miss, then. I see on your application that you’ve represented England in track and field?’

‘The triple jump.’

‘Excellent. I see also that you’re a vegetarian and that your last job was as a bouncer. You know, you’re very well qualified to be a kangaroo.’

‘Does that just require hopping about?’

‘Well, hopping about comes into it, obviously, but you would need to be fully trained in the authentic behaviours of the Australian Red – particularly its mating rituals.’

‘Mating rituals?’

‘The zoo is famed for its kangaroo mating programme.’

‘Who’s the female kangaroo?’

‘A very nice woman called Susan Hopper.’

‘Isn’t she also a barmaid at the Noah’s Arms?’

‘You know her, then?’

‘I’ve always rather fancied her. And, between you and me, I’ve got a bit of a fur fetish too, so with us both dressed as kangaroos…Wait a minute, isn’t there a Mr Hopper?’

‘There is, but he’s the alpha male stag in the deer enclosure so can’t really complain. You’d be given a basic training in other species too so that you could stand in for sick or absent colleagues.’

‘That’ll add a bit of extra interest.’

‘Indeed. You could find yourself hopping round the kangaroo enclosure in a morning and diving for fish in the sealion pool in the afternoon.’

‘I’d like to take this job.’

‘And I’d be pleased to appoint you, Mr Springer….My name’s Frank, by the way. Do you mind if I call you Skippy?…’