It seems like every day another animal makes its escape or ventures out into the human world and becomes news. One of the most recent examples of an animal turning up where some think it doesn’t belong, as NY Magazine reports, is the coyote currently exploring Queens.
There was another coyote at large on the Upper West Side recently, and two in New Jersey. Any more and they’ll have their own Bravo “Real Coyote” franchise. There would probably be less biting than in those others.
Last week 15 bison made an ill-fated bid for freedom from their upstate New York farm. What’s going on? Why are so many animals on the move? What does this mean for you humans? And what does it mean for us animals?
Firstly, I’d like to thank The Daily Beast for giving me the opportunity to address these questions here today. I’m a huge fan of The Daily Beast, or really any news organization that is dedicated exclusively to beasts.
Let’s begin with my own personal escape experience. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Mia, an Egyptian cobra, better known on Twitter as @BronxZoosCobra. (FYI: The name Mia wasn’t my choice. My name was determined by an online user-generated contest. Unlike those “cute” animal babies, the zoo never bothered to give me a name prior to my social media fame, but the society’s cute animal bias is better addressed in another piece.)
My adventure in 2011 began on one of those perfect New York City days in March—there’s usually just one—where the brutal winter is over and the soul-crushing humidity of summer wasn’t yet here. I decided to get out and stretch my legs. (It’s an expression.)
So I ventured out of my herpetarium, unbeknownst to the upper management of the Bronx Zoo. How was I supposed to know what a big deal it would be for a venomous cobra to “escape” from the zoo? I just wanted to explore the Big Apple like millions of tourists do every year. It seemed like a no-brainer. Apples and snakes have gone together since the literal beginning.
For some reason, my casual tweets about visiting some tourist sites and local hot spots garnered a lot of attention. It was a mix of excitement for something new in the neighborhood and fear that the familiar old neighborhood would never be the same.
It’s like when a Starbucks or Whole Foods opens in an area for the first time. Everyone acts shocked and dismayed that things are changing, while being eager to order their first venti.
My popularity spread pretty quickly and soon I had hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and was tweeting with celebs like Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Favreau, Steve Martin and even then-NYC Mayor Bloomberg. I tried not to let all the attention go to my hood.
But after a week exploring NYC, I was discovered by zookeepers in a dark corner of the Reptile House and returned to my “home.” It’s my own fault for forgetting my iPhone charger and having to swing by the heating rock to pick it up.
I wasn’t the first animal to venture out into your human habitat and haven’t been the last. In 1935 some rhesus monkeys got to business and escaped from a Long Island zoo. The Evening Post reports that there were around 170 monkeys taking a holiday. That’s nearly 20 barrel fulls.
When told how many monkeys had escaped, the zoo owner said, “That’s bananas!” OK, he didn’t say that. But that definitely would have been the name of the segment on one of the 24-hour news networks.
In the ’80s, the San Diego Zoo had its very own primate “Harry Houdini.” Ken Allen, a 16-year-old, 245-pound Borneo orangutan, escaped his enclosure 4 times in 3 years according to the LA Times. He lived in an “enclosure.” Who wouldn’t try to escape that? True, his enclosure is probably larger than most Manhattan apartments, but still.
While these escapes were fleeting—mine only lasted 7 days—a brave Humboldt penguin spent 82 days on the run from the Tokyo Sea Life Park, as told by The Guardian. That’s 10 days longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries.
Penguin 337, thoughtfully named by the zoo officials, seemed to really enjoy his time away and could often be seen frolicking in the sea.
Were all of these animals desperate to be free or just eager to try something new? Could it be that the grass is just greener on the other side of the enclosure? That could be what a Bengal tiger thought when it broke into the Nandankanan zoo in India, as the Huffington Post reported in 2013.
They say he was on the prowl and looking for a mate. He saw the female tiger in the zoo and swiped right. But just like a man, eventually he got bored and left after a month. I totally know how that tigress must have felt. I’ve dated a few snakes in my day.
Even more recently, two llamas escaped a mobile petting zoo in Arizona and led police and officials on an exciting chase that this very publication reported on. Some saw the llamas as black and white, while others thought they were blue and gold and wearing a dress. Either way, they briefly tasted freedom.
You can probably understand why an animal might want to escape a zoo. But what about that Bengal tiger and the NYC coyotes? They were living the good life in the wild. Why venture into a zoo or begin exploring the city?
A number of the leading animal behaviorists in the U.S. and Europe probably have a few opinions on these occurrences, but I didn’t bother reaching out to them. I already know the answer. It’s obvious when you think about it. Fame. All these animals want to be famous.
Everyone wants to be famous. That’s why there is so much reality television programming. Do people think they’ll really find love on a dating show? Does a person want to spend weeks eating rice and bugs on a “deserted” island? Of course not. It’s about those 15 minutes.
Coyote on the Upper West Side. News coverage. Llamas on the run. Televised fast and furryous chase. Cobra escapes from the Bronx Zoo, starts a Twitter account, and eventually The Daily Beast comes calling.
Until there’s an Amazing Rhesus, a So You Think You Can Prance?, or more animal-focused reality shows, you can expect more of us animals popping up where and when you least expect it. We want the fame. Twitter loves the hashtags. And blogs need content. That’s the just how it is in the jungle habitat that we’re all living in today.
We’ll have to wait and see if those other animals can figure out a way to stay in the spotlight. For me, I still tweet about what’s happening in my world and in pop culture. Some ask me why I still tweet even though I’m back at the zoo and if I’m even relevant anymore. I just ask them how many Twitter followers they have and they usually shut up.
CNN did name me as 1 of 23 key moments in Twitter history, right after the Arab Spring. So, it’s clear you humans keep everything in the right perspective.
If you are visiting NYC, swing by the Bronx Zoo and pay me a visit. And be sure to tap on the glass. With a hammer. I really owe that Samuel L. Jackson a visit.