Zoo # 32 – Madoqua Kirkii*

Thompson had snapped up the last gazelle,
Melville had bagged him a whale.
Attenborough had almost half of a zoo,
Steve Irvine had all of a snail.

John Cleese got a furry young lemur,
Doc Salmon, herself, got a germ.
There are hundreds of folk got a beetle,
The Beatles, themselves got a worm

Nomenclature becomes daily harder –
A wasp was the option for Muse –
But when Kirk had accepted his Dik-Dik
There can’t have been much left to choose.

I’m always intrigued about the business of having things named after you.  First it was animals, then insects, then bacteria and parasites.  Why?  I guess it was ok in the past, when you got an antelope or a whale, but now everybody seems to get an invertebrate of some kind.  I never even dreamt that there were so many types of wasp** (although I will dream about the little buggers now).    Nobody cares about the name of something that has just stung them: they care about squashing the blighter.  And let’s face it, nobody wants a disease named after them.  Just ask Mr & Mrs Covid from number 19. 
Now it is planets and stars and I start to understand.  Sooner or later, we are going to discover life out there and the odds are, I suppose, about 50/50 who is going to be hunting whom.  If they turn out to be the hunters, I guess it must offer some kind of protection to be able to say, ‘Did you know, by the way, that your planet is named after me?  Yes, honestly, I am Derek…’

*Kirk’s Dik-Dik (Madoqua Kirkii)

**I do like the fact that Greta Garbo has a solitary wasp named after her.

Zoo #31 – Cygnus Olor

Be careful of them – vicious things
Can break your arms with beating wings –
And if you venture near their eggs
I’m sure that they could break your legs.

And if they’ve got a Cygnet brood
Don’t try to calm them down with food:
You won’t appease them with your bread
They’ll only peck your heels instead.

They’re always ready for a fight,
Like Al Capone all dressed in white.
Don’t think that this is Donald Duck,
These giant birds don’t give a damn*.

The fearsome reputation of the swan is undeserved and erroneous.  I have fed swans from my hand many times, if anything they are more circumspect than ducks or geese – and certainly less likely to take a chunk of flesh than a squirrel.  The trick is to let them approach you.  Like all birds, they will attempt to protect their nests and chicks – they will make themselves look as big as they can**.  Swans, like most birds, have hollow, lightweight bones: their wings will snap much more easily than a human arm.  They do have powerful legs though, and clawed feet that you might want to keep out of the way of.  We all know how the upper, serene part of a swan’s body is at odds with the maelstrom that is paddling madly below-decks.  I think if I was expected to remain impeccably stately at all times, whilst being obliged to paddle like the clappers beneath the water line, I might just get a bit short tempered myself from time to time…

*For those scant few people of the same age as me – like Nausius in ‘Up Pompeii’, I couldn’t think of a rhyme there.

**Q. How big can an angry swan look?  A. Very.

Zoo #30 – Chimpanzee

The chimpanzee would be a fool,
To turn his brain to making tools:
To evolve himself to number one,
Far better if he made a gun.

I’m always puzzled by why, exactly, we became what we are whilst chimpanzees did not.  They have brains, they have opposable thumbs, they are bloody minded and, at times, blood thirsty – why are we the ones with the overdrafts?  Why do whales allow themselves to be harpooned, why do dolphins get caught in fishermen’s nets?  They must know something we do not – and God help them if we ever find out what it is…

I have just realised that chimpanzees also appeared in week 12 (although a completely different rhyme) of our little glide around the zoo.  You know what it’s like, constantly finding yourself back at a cage you’ve already seen…

Zoo #29 – Hornet

Never wave an ice cream cornet
In the presence of a hornet,
If they want to taste the thing
They possess a fearsome sting.

And, unlike the Bumble Bee,
Are very much less mannerly:
Always happy to inject
Their poison where you least expect.

If you’re walking round the zoo
And you somehow find that you
Are trapped between the beast and sugar,
Swat the stripy little bugger.

So, science tells us that every creature has carved for itself an evolutionary niche: every creature has a role to play.  Tell me, please, what is the role of a hornet?  Other than being even more belligerent and bloody-minded than a wasp, what does it do?  It seems to have developed as a consequence of some entomological arms race: more likely to sting than a bee, more painful than a wasp, bigger than them both; it is the China of the insect world and every bit as unreliable.  If you avoid being attacked by it, it will probably find a toddler to attack instead.

PS I do sometimes have readers in China.  No more I guess…

Zoo #28 – Flamingo

Built like tower cranes on feet
And rendered pink by what they eat,
Thank the lord that politicians
Do not provide them with nutrition.
         (Because nobody wants a shit-coloured flamingo).

Come on, everybody knows the joke about ‘you are what you eat’, but flamingos, at least to some extent, really are.  Everybody loves a flamingo don’t they?  Well no, not me.  Have you seen those beady little eyes?  They may be pink – and nothing pink is ever bad – but surely the knowledge that they only get to be pink by eating certain algae and shrimps gives some pause for thought.  What colour would they be otherwise?  Would they still be cute if they were brown?  Why, evolution being what it is, do they not eat stripy algae so that they are disguised in the reeds?  There must be some natural advantage to being pink.  Maybe it’s a visual warning to all predators: I taste just like one of those god-awful pink wafers that you always get in a biscuit selection, and nobody wants to eat one of those…

Zoo # 25 – Lion Fish

As a boy I was very taken with the ‘Little Willy’ poems.  Sadly, I have absolutely no recollection of who they were written by, nor where I read them, but I do remember that the form of these little rhymes never varied.  I can remember two of them today – over fifty years on:

Little Willy with a shout
Gouged the baby’s eyeballs out;
Stamped on them to make them ‘Pop!’ –
Mother cried, ‘Now William stop!’


Little William with a roar
Nailed the baby to the door.
Mother cried, with humour quaint,
‘Careful Will, you’ll mar the paint.’

A have absolutely no idea why they appealed to me so greatly, but I thought it was about time that I allowed myself to take inspiration from them.  I hope that whoever wrote the originals will forgive me…

Little Willy, with a yen,
Threw baby in the lion’s den.
Mother seemed to be quite happy –
‘It was almost time to change his nappy.’

Sadly, it was at this point that I realised that at least fifty percent of my readers (‘Hello’ to both of you) will not know what a nappy is (actually the diminutive of napkin I believe – although how it came to be wrapped about a baby’s nethers I am not sure).  I understand that American babies have diapers (the etymology of which completely escapes me) and I couldn’t make that rhyme in any sensible way, so I tried again.

Little Willy with a yell
Dropped the baby down a well
Filled up with piranha fish –
Mother whispered ‘Make a wish.’

Which, in the end, I’m probably happier with…

Zoo #24 – Hippo

Never say ‘No’ to a hippo,
They don’t really like it you see,
And all of the hippos that I know
Rarely ever listen to me.

If a hippo just wants to get past you
Then probably let him, I’d say,
‘Cos they don’t really listen to reason
If they feel that you’ve stood in their way.

If you think they’re like George out of Rainbow*
Then I’d urge you to please think again –
If you stand between hippo and water
You will land in a sea full of pain.

*Rainbow was a UK educational programme made for pre-school children and watched primarily by adults.  Everybody watched Rainbow, but few admitted it.  George was a pink hippopotamus – everybody’s favourite.  George, Bungle (an androgynous bear) and Zippy (a puppet so inclined to ‘shoot off at the mouth’ that the others kept zipping him up) all lived with human companion Geoffrey and the show promoted social development: the importance of kindness and understanding.  This was many years before the Rainbow was adopted as a symbol by the LGBT community and even further ahead of its adoption as a sign of hope in the UK during the covid pandemic, but it always spoke of inclusion and hope.  Best of all, Rainbow gave the world Rod, Jane & Freddie

(Ask any UK adult between the ages of 40 and 60 to sing you the theme tune to ‘Rainbow’, you’ll see…)
‘Up above the streets and houses,
Rainbow climbing high.
Everyone can see them smiling
Over the sky.
Paint the whole world with a rainbow…’

Zoo #23 – Tomorrow

Momma’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow,
Zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow.
Momma’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow,
With the man that we call Uncle Ray.

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo on Sunday,
Zoo on Sunday, zoo on Sunday.
Daddy’s taking us to the zoo on Sunday
Because he and mum ‘Have nothing to say’…

I write these ‘Zoo’ poems in batches: sometimes they come to me, sometimes they do not.  Sometimes a little cynicism is bound to creep in…

Zoo #22 – Vampire Bat

Consider animals that flock,
Or congregate within a bloc;
The fish that shoal, the wolves that pack
And spare a thought for those who lack
The need to be a species clone
But need to spend some time alone,
Who feel that it is quite absurd
To be no more than part of Herd.

Consider too the beasts that find
They’re not like others of their kind.
Imagine please the problems that
Befall the vegan vampire bat
Who nightly flies around the wood
Whilst others go in search of blood
Who finds his twilight life a test
Not being quite like all the rest.

Consider please this lone outcast
Who lives his life in bloodless fast
(Blood oranges would be his choice,
But there’s no rhyme for that of course)
And, like me, hope that he will find
A space for him within his kind –
I think that all he wants is that
‘Cos after all, he’s just a bat.

Being different is never easy, but sometimes it’s more difficult than others…

Having become confused over which animals I have, and have not, written a rhyme about, I decided the time had come to write a list, at which point I discovered that my last rhyme (Zoo #21 – Aardvark) is about the same animal as my first (Zoo #1 – An Explanation).  The rhymes are completely different – so at least I think I am not going completely ga-ga – but now I have ‘the list’ it should not happen again.  Well, it might, if I’m honest, but at least I’ll know… 

Zoo #21 – Aardvark

Of everything in the animal park
The broadest of smiles is on the aardvark:
Although theoretical,
If done alphabetical
It’s always the first on the Ark.

Do you ever find yourself wondering exactly how animals got their names?  Why a Tarantula isn’t called an ‘Arrghh!’?  Why a Lion isn’t called a ‘Shit!’?  Why a giraffe is not called a ‘Blimey!’?  Why a Platypus is not called a ‘Whatthef…’?  Who decided that a dog is a dog and a cat is a cat and not the other way round?  I’m guessing that Noah and his family may be to blame: ‘Look, we need to write something on all the gates or else we’re going to get well mixed up.  Just write something, anything, so that we can tell them apart.  The last thing we need is a duck mating with an otter or somesuch… Really?  Oh I don’t know.  Just write Platypus…’