Saturday, May 28, 2011

Predator Fascination

At the zoo, some of the most popular animals are predators. Big cats, big birds. Sharks. Wolves. Bears.

This is true even though most of the times that I've been at the zoo, the predators aren't really doing anything. They're sitting there, because they're nocturnal, or because that's what predators do when they're not hunting. Often they sleep. Sometimes they watch all the people. But when the tiger stretches, you can hear the little kids squeal and hide behind their parents.

Last time I was at a zoo, there was a little house with three giant windows. Straight ahead was the leopard cage, which I liked but the leopards were sleeping far above us. On the right were tigers. Baby tigers, so they were actually doing stuff. Very excellent, and I spent a lot of time watching them. On the other side were, I think, river otters. These guys were all over the place! Swimming and running around on shore and playing. They were adorable, and active, and I thought they were totally nifty.

But I still ended up back over at the tiger window.

People like predators, I think, because it's very important to be interested in things that might hunt you. It's better when it can't actually kill us because then we have that fear-in-safety adrenalin feeling. When the lion yawns and we see all his teeth... wow!

You'd think we'd be similarly fascinated by things we want to hunt or eat. Some people are, maybe, because a good hunter understands her prey. Is it so visceral, though? I don't know.

I'm a cat person. I love predators. I can understand dog people, a bit, although I don't want a dog. There's a kind of coevolved relationship between people and dogs and it can be a beautiful thing. They're companions. But dogs are also predatory.

I have friends who have rabbits. Rabbits are prey. I get wanting something soft and fuzzy, but I don't understand the emotions and behaviors of rabbits; they don't make sense to me and they don't seem interesting.

And I wonder... what part of loving predators, or prey, is identifying with its nature? And what part is fascination with the Other Who Wants To Eat Us?

Cats are, essentially, furry balls of sleepiness and impulsivity. Dogs are eagerness to please on four legs. The prey critters I've owned, they seem to be about fear and lots of babies, since half of them are going to get picked off before they reach adulthood.

We're fascinated by predatory people, too. Serial killers, cult leaders, all that stuff. Especially on TV, or in prison, or at least in the next town over. We like predatory people so much, we decided that certain kinds of people are inherently violent and dangerous. Then we become fascinated with them, and with controlling them.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I've just been thinking about how odd it is that I have two cute little furry softy killers, and I cuddle up to them with their fangs and claws right next to my jugular... and I love them because of their predatory nature, and not in spite of it.

I seem to have gotten to some kind of sociological commentary, and I'm wondering if perhaps we should be glad that we're starting to see wild predators in our suburbs again. Because maybe if we're afraid of the jaguar in the schoolyard, we won't make monsters out of the immigrants down the block?

Hey, it's better than putting them foreigners into zoos...

I don't know. Meow.

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