Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do Not Enter, Maybe: The Curious Tale of Guests Who Transcend Barriers

There are things in life that are unexplainable by science.  Many of life's mysteries cause us to pause and contemplate possible solutions.  Sometimes, we even question our own sanity.  Like one time, I swear to god I saw a ghost.  I was 10 years old and in my dad's study.  I heard papers rustling, and I looked over in the direction of the sound and THERE WAS A GHOST.  No, really.  I'm serious.  She was a young girl, transparentish.  She turned and walked away, disappearing before she got to the door.

At least *I* knew there was a ghost in the same room as me.

I remember sitting at my dad's IBM computer (I may or may not have been writing a killer script for SeaQuest DSV*), fingers frozen on the keys, staring at where the ghost had been and wondering what the heck happened.  Questions flooded my brain, such as:

1) Did I really just see what I thought I saw?
2) Am I crazy?
3) How would Jonathan Brandis react to this story when I told him on the first day of filming my brilliant script?

I feel bad for all of these people because they never got a chance to know the creative depths of my writing ability.

I ultimately never could explain what I saw, although I still think I actually saw a ghost.  But I think about that time a lot, and wonder about supernatural things and if science will ever find an explanation.  Plus, I never married Lucas Wolenczak.

We could've been great together.

But you get what I'm saying about these odd events in life that leave you perplexed and yearning for more information, right?

I think zookeepers experience this on a more regular basis than people in other possessions when it comes to a topic, and one topic only:

Guests who let themselves into animal habitats.

This class of events renders all of us with but one phrase used only to describe completely mind-blowing events that no human being with any advanced level of intellect could explain.  

"Um, what?"

Exactly my point.

Some of us have seen smaller versions of this enigma, that mostly just irritate us and occasionally allow a laugh later.  Others have seen the very serious side of guests taking a stroll into back areas and wind up getting really hurt.  

Just the other day, a man and woman were found in an employee-only area by one of our sea turtle habitats.  It was hard to tell if they were more interested in touching the turtle or enjoying a smoke break back there, but this is not the mystery at the crux of this discussion.  The fact is, when they were told by staff that a) they could not smoke and b) they could not be back there, they responded with something like this:

"Uh, we didn't realize we couldn't be back here."

That's because they didn't know they weren't supposed to be in there.

Wait, I've failed you, dear readers.  I need to back up and do some explaining.  You may be empathizing with these wayward sea turtle lovers, because how would you know what that particular habitat looks like?  Accept my apology and this description of the area in which we set our scene.

Picture if you will, a main viewing deck surrounded by a low fence.  The employee gate is well-hidden within this wooden fence, but can be sought out with a critical eye.  The latch of said gate is on the other side of the fence, requiring someone to reach over to gain entry.  Wait, there's more.  Within this latch is a lock.  The lock is, unsurprisingly, on the same side as the gate latch, which as you recall is on the non-public side.  

More guests with wanderlust should make this their mantra.

Let's recap.  In order to get behind to the employee area, one must know where the gate is, reach over, take off a lock, unlatch the gate, and ultimately walk through.  I'm not one who ought to judge others' world views, but I still have a hard time figuring out how this couple thought their retort of, "Wait we aren't allowed to be back here?" was an excuse any reasonable person would buy.

I've also found people in our penguin habitat, which has two barrier fences and gates and an "EMPLOYEES ONLY" sign, only to be told that it wasn't "clear" they weren't allowed in there with the penguins, but at least they got great Instagram shots on their iPhones.  

Why would you want to get close to Penguin anyway?

This situation makes me wonder exactly what life experience these guests have with typical barrier devices.  I shouldn't be harsh in assuming these individuals are either unable to comprehend basic rules or that they are so immature that they ignore rules in order to guarantee a up-close and personal interaction with an animal.

Are there moderately populated** towns and cities with opposite social mores when it comes to the concept of DO NOT ENTER?  

Or did I miss some change in our legislation system or social culture in which it is actually OKAY to go behind the scenes at various business and homes as long as I am confused about whether or not I should be there?  I think the only way to really understand this is to just do it myself.  I've spent the evening coming up with ways in which I can test this hypothesis.

1) The next time I'm in NYC at a Broadway play with some famous headliner, I'm going to just walk into their dressing room.  I am relatively confident that I can reason with the bodyguards:

Me: Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize I wasn't allowed back here. 
Me: Oh no, it wasn't made clear.  
Bodyguard: Oh, okay.  I'm very sorry.  Can I get you something to drink while you wait for Nathan Lane to return?

Have you been waiting for me long, Cat? Only all my life.

2) I'm going to read all the confidential files in a doctor's office.  I mean, their office doors are never locked.  They also don't have signs saying I CAN'T go back there.  I'll probably wait until no one is manning the reception area, just so that I can have some peace and quiet in order to read about someone's medical situation.  If they REALLY didn't want me in there, they'd make it impossible for me to be there.

It never said on the stroller NOT to power it with a Segue.

3) Finally, and this is what I'm most excited about, I think I'll just walk into someone's house completely unannounced.  Like maybe I'll walk through the door, or break a window to enter.  Especially if I need something, such as a bathroom, a glass or water, or just a friend to talk to.  All humans are friends, and will completely understand if I just let myself into their place I think.  As much as I try, I can't think of any cons to this plan.  If for some reason, they call the police and/or defend their property in whatever way they deem fit, I'll lean on my tried and true defense: Where was the sign that I shouldn't come on in?  Plus, they didn't lock their sliding glass window.  It's their fault!

Yeah but I didn't know I wasn't supposed to be here.

In all seriousness, why do guests do this?  Why do people jump into habitats with animals, or dangle their kids over them, or let themselves into back areas?  This is especially terrifying and baffling when you hear of people entering habitats of potentially dangerous animals.  It's one thing for someone to try to take a selfie with an African penguin and getting nipped, it's another thing to dangle your kid over a predator's exhibit.  Or climb over a barrier fence, down into a mote and up to another perimeter fence to pet a wolf and wonder why you got bit (blaming the zoo, of course, for not making it clear you can't be back there).  In some cases, animals pay the price with their life for guests who take liberties like this.  It is within the Top Five Worst Fears zookeepers have.

But clearly there are a class of humans who dangle each other in dangerous situations.

But I hate to end this entry on a sour note, because all problems have a solution.  So I've created a quick guide for any guests with a penchant for ignoring rules and common sense when entering a zoo or aquarium, for their safety and the well-being of our animals.  Feel free to share it.

Quick Gude For Entering Areas In The Zoo

1) If there is a gateway, fence, or any other physical barrier that is blocking me from the animals you want to see, DO NOT ENTER.

2)  If you must enter through a gate or door with equipment that includes (but is not limited to): latches, locks, carabiners, etc.  DO NOT ENTER

3) If you walk any further and find yourself face-to-face with an animal that is NOT in a free-flight aviary, DO NOT ENTER.  This is especially true if you've ignored the two helpful tips already given.

4) If you have to climb over, crawl under, and/or weave through any part of an animal exhibit, you do not belong there.  Even if the zoological establishment has the word "Adventure" in any part of their name.

5) If you have the urge to dangle yourself, another adult, or especially a child over a habitat to get a better look, please leave the zoo immediately and seek psychiatric attention.

Like, seriously woodchuck?

Of course, I know as well as all of you that people who ignore all rules and common sense are not necessarily unintelligent.  They simply become defensive when they are called out for doing what they know is already wrong.  So perhaps the mystery lies within why they think they are entitled to toss aside basic decency.  Alas, I fear I'll never know.  

In the meantime, we can all come up with some foolproof ways to keep guests out.  I'm talking about like redesigning habitats with impermeable boundaries such as: 

* Fence lines that are 1,000 feet high and require approval from the FAA

* Lava moats (alligator moats would never work as they may entice our break-and-enter guests to swim with them)

* Force fields (talk to your maintenance department about this)

* Giant muscular dudes to serve as Zoo Bouncers.  Zouncers.  

* Make each employee entrance look like an impossible Mario Bros. level.

This way to the sea turtle pool!

I'm still ironing out some of the kinks of this plan, but I think these ideas would at least discourage some of the guests I'm talking about.  However, I am open to further suggestion.  

What are some of the weird places you've found guests? 

* This script would make me famous and also guarantee marriage to Jonathan Brandis.

** They must have a decent amount of inhabitants in said towns due to the sheer number of people who gain unauthorized entry in, around, or tumbling down into animal habitats.


  1. I just had a dude send his 6-yr-old under the outer takin fence to "look into the pool" that has an 8500+ volt electric wire running across the top. She touched it. I don't think I was successful at concealing my anger... At least the takins stayed away from the crazy and the guy actually understood he did something really stupid. The kid was terrified and hurt, but okay.

  2. I once had a job where I was in charge of an old-fashioned exhibit that was basically a shallow pit surrounded by a low stone wall with a flat top. You just had to hop over the wall to get in. One day I found a family having a picnic on top of the wall, which was nothing surprising, except this time as well as sitting on the wall or standing on the public side, two of them were standing *inside* the exhibit, eating their lunch as if this were as normal as could be. Fortunately the Patagonian cavies were hiding out in the shrubbery as far from them as possible, and I guess equally fortunately that exhibit is no longer in use.

  3. Dear god do I know the feeling how many times does the educator have to say DONT PUT ANYTYHING OVER THE DOLPHIN POOL!!!!!!!!! Yet they still have there go pro camera having over the dolphin pool geez get a freaking clue

  4. Hmmmm....where do I start?
    These are stories from several institutions:
    Physically removed a child that climbed over a large fish tank and was scaling a wall into a bear habitat...parents were 1/4 mile away at another habitat. I don't blame the child in this instance...he was disabled mentally in some capacity and I could not even communicate with him but calmed him by singing ABC song. I waited with him after I called rangers until the parents found a ranger to look for him. That's just heartbreaking on many levels.
    On TWO separate occasions asked 2 different fathers to remove his toddlers from the above ground elephant viewing railing with their feet on the inside. Had they fallen off into the enclosure, merely 4 feet separated them from a huge drop into an ELEPHANT enclosure.
    Walked into a keeper service area like the one described above, hidden latch, crouching lock style and found an entire family touring the area. Yep don't mind the hippos or the forest buffalo, you're totally safe here.
    Countless people in the Aldabra tortoise enclosure.
    In two different institutions, people entered the elephant yards. In one instance, the guy was feeding browse.
    Countless times people over a giraffe fence feeding browse. No - they can't kill you with their heads our necks, you're fine. And sure ANYTHING you pick is safe for them to eat, there are NO toxic plants EVER.
    Don't even get me started on the feeding. Grrrr.....