Tuesday, 21 January 2014INDEX

Well I'll be a son of a snake catcher

In his youth my father, Alan Brind, and his friend, John Goodman, took up that most unusual of trades, they became snake catchers for London Zoo.

You might imagine that this involved exotic trips to Borneo or the Amazon jungle; but it did not. In fact they never left this country. The snakes they caught were found in the New Forest, grass snakes and adders.

The zoo needed these common or garden creatures not to display but to feed to some of the exotic animals kept at Regents Park.

As a result my father formed close connections with some of the keepers at London Zoo and
Alan Brind at Bow Flour Mills where he worked after he married my mum.
got behind the scenes access, denied to the rest of the public.

One animal he remembers particularly fondly is Guy the Gorilla. Guy was just a baby and my father was privileged to play with him sometimes. He says he got to know Guy quite well.

This connection came to mind when I saw Project Nim (directed by James Marsh in 2011). Nim was a chimp raised as a human and taught to communicate using sign language.

This documentary has everything. Attempts at inter species bestiality that seem perfectly understandable. The text book evil scientist whose motivation is impossible to fathom. Bright, healthy young Americans who clearly treated Nim as an equal, even giving him weed to smoke!

But the heart of this film is appallingly sad. Nim ends up incarcerated in various institutions, even spending time in an animal experimentation lab. He eventually dies of a heart attack.

When you get to know Nim a little, through the medium of this film, you realise how sad and cruel that was.

You even see the lawyer who threatened a writ of habeas corpus (probably the first ever for a non human) unless something was done to improve Nim's living conditions. And you think yes, he's got a point.

When my children were young we got a family pass to London Zoo each year for many years, so we spent a lot of time there. As a result I often saw Guy and gazed into his sad eyes.

He looked extremely miserable. Perhaps he too was remembering the happy days when he was treated as a play mate and not locked away like a prisoner on death row for a crime he did not commit.

To this day you can still see Guy in London. When he died they stuffed him and put him in the Natural History Museum.
Tuesday, 21 January 2014INDEX