The keeper of the chimpanzee cage was a well-read man of culture who
fancied himself a zoologist and humanitarian more than a mere animal
custodian. He often found himself staring for long moments into the cage
of his ward, wondering whether in some primal jungle he might truly have
shared an ancestor with this creature.
Zoos, however, are set up largely for the entertainment and edification
of their human patrons; so in fact, the keeperís duties were evenly
divided between the front and rear ends of his charge. In the morning
the keeper brought food for the chimp and in the afternoon, after the
patrons had left, he cleaned dung from the cage floor.
The chimpanzee himself, though, was no ordinary simian; he was a true
student of human nature. Often in the afternoon he would lie back in his
cage as if in a movie theater, munching a snack, watching through
half-closed eyes, the curious passers- by. They would make strange
faces, hooting or grunting at him, awaiting some response, then meeting
his riveting gaze they would turn away uneasily as if unsure as to which
side of the bars they were on and who really was the entertainment.
After the zoo had closed it was just the keeper and his charge. The two
would find themselves staring through the bars into each otherís primate
faces for long moments in search of common ground. Occasionally the
keeper, finding himself racked with guilt over the chimpís sad fate,
would vilify his species in philosophic monologue regarding moral
responsibility, fancying that through some unknown mechanism, a real
psychic connection might be developing...
Ö Which, in reality, there was, since over the years the chimp had come
to understand human language. Given vocal chords which had been selected
millions of years earlier for snarls and grunts rather than howís and
thouís, the chimp, of course had never found means to articulate his
thoughts. But over time the symbolism of letters on signs posted on and
about his cage had gradually become intelligible to him: