Zoo # 36 – Lynx

Despite what he thinks
The smell of a lynx
Is really not very alluring.
I’d wager my hat
To smell like a cat
Is something you won’t find assuring.

I’d probably say,
If someone should spray
You over with ‘eau de la feline’
As odd as it seems
The girl of your dreams
Towards you will not make a beeline.

I think it’s a fact
If you hope to attract
A lover, then don’t be too free
With a spray that is meant
To give you the scent
That a bobcat might spray up a tree.

Everywhere I go, I smell Africa – not the country, but the body spray.  It is the smell, not of a generation, but of a decade.  An across-the-board odour of what a boy believes a girl believes a boy should smell like.  In truth, it’s not a horrible smell it’s just… well, how do you know whether the man has made an effort or the restroom smells clean?  (Men’s ‘conveniences’ smell the same the world over, just some of them more so.)  Also, Africa is a wonderful continent, full of all manner of things that it would be great to be associated with, but I am sure, like everywhere else, it has places that you do not want your armpits to smell of.  It’s a very big place.  Surely the makers could be a little more specific: a picturesque area of Tanzania that always smells of lotus blossom; a small town in Mozambique that always reminds me of rose buds.  Also, the pedant in me keeps banging on about the fact that there are no Lynxes in Africa.  Lynx Iberia has a ring to it – it doesn’t, unless it has one of those dinky little collars that people put around their moggy’s neck in order to announce its presence to birds – Lynx Eurasia sounds faintly exotic; Lynx Canada might well appeal to the kind of man who likes to smell of wood, leather and elk, but I think they’d need some special kind of advertising agency to successfully push a scent called Bobcat Musk – unless it was to another bobcat… 

Another Bobcat

Zoo #35 – Somali Wild Ass

Forlorn Somali Wild Ass –
A kind of mini-horse –
Critically endangered,
So in the zoo, of course.

A diet of leaves and grasses,
They barely need to drink,
If they weren’t so bloody tasty
There’d be many more, I think.

So very few are out there,
The African plains bereft,
The humans in the neighbourhood
Eat all that there are left.

They haunt the arid desert,
A landscape filled with rocks;
They look just like a donkey,
But they wear a zebra’s socks.

No longer will you find them
Out in the wild for sure:
They still remain a wild ass,
But Somalian no more.

A new reader to this fol-de-rol (also friend and employer – I know, a charmed life) suggested this particular animal for a rhyme and I said ‘Sure’, without actually knowing anything about them at all.  As usual, Google (after an unproductive, but diverting few minutes on ‘Images’) came to my rescue.  Somali Wild Ass are, as the poem says, critically endangered, with just a few hundred left in the wild, spread, in fact, across Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.  As far as I can see, their only predator is man.  They are to all intents and purposes a donkey; in fact, according to what I read, all Italian donkeys are descended from them.  (I have to own up here, I had no idea that Italy was a hotbed of donkey eugenics, nor that its donkey population had been kept distinct from that in the rest of Europe; to be honest, I’m surprised the EU even allows it.  Surely there must be some kind of a Euro-donkey edict out there somewhere.  I can only imagine that the Franco/German donkeys are in some way superior – at least, I’m sure they believe they are.)  They are amazing creatures that are supremely adapted to conserve water.  The females maintain a higher temperature than the males so that they sweat less – a trait only otherwise seen in Gwyneth Paltrow.  Visually Somali Wild Ass differ from other donkeys only in that they appear to be wearing pyjama trousers – a throwback to the zebras with which they are closely related.  Presumably where they come from they didn’t need to camouflage anything above grass level.  I will have to research if the lions are particularly tiny in Somalia (if, indeed, they have them*).  They do, of course, have humans and they are extremely unlikely to be deceived by the fact that the Sunday roast is tottering about on invisible legs.  One way or another, it would appear that the Somali Wild Ass has reached a population in the wild, so badly denuded as to be unsustainable and, as such, probably something that your children will be able to see only in the zoo, whilst Wild Ass burger fans will have to be content with the farmed stuff…

*They do.  Also cheetahs and hyenas – so why evolution decided to protect the Wild Ass from the knees down only I have no idea.    

Zoo #34 – Llama

If you see a nervous llama
Try your best not to alarm her
You will find she’ll stay much calmer
If you prove you wouldn’t harm her.

The easiest thing that you can do
Is stick your elbows down with glue.
Hop along upon one leg,
Block your nose up with a peg.

If you feel she’s still not right
Paint your toes and fingers white.
Lay a penguin on your belly
Stand all night in a bowl of jelly.

Should you find she’s still upset
You could wear your trousers wet;
Fill your shoes with frozen peas,
Lay a fish across your knees.

If, by now, she hasn’t cheered
Buy yourself a plastic beard,
Pretend to be a garden gnome,
Then pack her bags and send her home.

You know what it’s like: you know exactly where you’re going and, confident of your ability to arrive at the predicted destination, you take your eye off the ball for just a second and end up down quite a different alley.  This came about because last week, whilst writing about a camel, I happened to notice that a hybrid camel/llama existed and it was called a Cama.  (Although, if zoologists had any soul, it would surely have been a Calmer.)  Anyway, the point it, this could only occur in the zoo: a helping hand was surely required.  For a start, the llama comes from South America whilst the camel does not.  Also the size difference between the male camel (in this instance) and the female llama would seem to provide what I can only describe as an insurmountable problem for the two amorous beasties.  I can see little prospect of this union occurring naturally without severe damage occurring to at least one of them.  (We can all guess which one – even more so if the resulting Cama was to take after his/her father in the birth-weight department.)  “Oh yes, young ‘miss you-know-best llama’ would be regretting the additional gin and lime then, wouldn’t she?  It’s one thing enjoying a night out, but quite another when you find yourself waking up beside an entirely different species…”  (“Why grandma, what a big mouth you have – also a very small brain.”) Anyway, this was supposed to be about a llama but, inadvertently became about a cama and, for no better reason than it sounded like it should be less agitated, it found itself here…

Zoo #33 – Camel

When taking high tea with a camel,
Be careful, you shouldn’t upset
This most anti-social of mammals –
You wouldn’t want one as a pet.

His manners are frankly appalling,
His personal hygiene is low
And if he should sit at your table
There is something you really should know.

When asking ‘Do you take sugar?’
– And, surprisingly, some camels do –
You should always take care not to snigger
When querying ‘One lump of two?’

Like everybody else that has ever been on holiday to Egypt or Tunisia, I have ridden camels.  They are smelly, uncooperative, uncomfortable and unevenly tempered – it is like riding a history teacher.  Only 6% of the world’s camels have two humps (Bactrian – including the critically endangered Wild Bactrian) whilst the remaining 94% have only one (Dromedary) – balanced, presumably, by a chip on the shoulder.  The camel’s hump (or humps) does (or do) not contain water (they carry that in a recyclable bottle in their backpack) but actually contain fat that metabolises very rapidly into water when the animal is unable to drink (think fat-free mayonnaise).  A camel’s faeces is so dry that the Bedouins are able to burn it without further drying – although it still, presumably, smells of burning shit and almost certainly explains the lack of appetite for toasted marshmallows in Bedouin culture.  A camel’s eyes and nostrils are designed to keep out wind-borne sand and its thick coat keeps it cool (much like a Parka in the 90’s).  Its feet are especially designed to stop the heavy beast sinking into shifting sands and its toes are uniquely shaped to give teenage boys something to titter about.  They mate whilst sitting down – something we have all attempted to do at the back of the cinema back in the day.  Evolution has turned the camel into one of the most incredible, biologically adapted creatures in the natural world – but they remain deeply unpleasant and they still smell of old socks…

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…