Please don't feed the animals

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

What's harder to divide? A. Hundreds of pounds of fresh meat to be distributed among a pack of hungry cheetahs, lions and polar bears.

B. Two billion dollars a year in annual revenues divvied between 30 ownership groups and 600 or so hockey players.

The answer is A. They do it every day at the Metro Toronto Zoo.

With the NHL officially locked out, you could do a lot worse with your new-found entertainment surplus than head out to the zoo. The top ticket is $18. At a Maple Leafs game, $18 is what you're out when your kid wants licorice.

I called the zoo because I have a theory that your garden variety emu or lynx is a lot smarter than any collection of player agents, hockey players, tycoons and, of course, sports columnists.

A chimp wouldn't deprive his rival of his most vital resource, food, at the expense of starving himself. He knows better. Two lawyers ...

Mutual destruction, of course, is precisely what the game's owners and players are now undertaking. Don't laugh, they're getting paid.

Robert Smerage, supervisor of the Americas and Canada Domain at the zoo, notes while some dominant wolves stuff themselves, the hierarchy of the pack allows everyone to eat.

"If there's conflict, it's usually hormonal," Smerage said. "At certain times of year they can get testy with each other but most of the time, they get along pretty well."

There you go. Hungry wolves 1, NHL owners and players 0.

By the way, Smerage, who spends his days with polar bears, grizzlies and jaguars, understands the life cycle. The on-ice ethos of the NHL? A mystery.

"I'm not a hockey fan," he said, "but you see them on television and they're almost killing each other. It makes you wonder what makes them do that."

Go to the zoo. An elk might give another elk a bit of a shove. A warthog might kick up a fuss when another warthog of the opposite sex is introduced into the herd.

Elephants sometimes make a show about circling and driving off other elephants for some common food.

If given the chance, Lindy the lion will siphon away food from Jerroh, who is a little less dominant, but one lion will not deliberately starve another lion for the sole purpose of extending his dominance. When they're full, they move on.

It's not like there is plenty to fight about in a zoo. Space is at a premium. Light, heat, shade, all of these vary from one well-worn patch of habitat to the other. This is a lock-in.

But the brutish, instinctual animals understand what we brainy, pinstriped humans do not. Eat till you're full. After that, who cares?

"We're human beings and human beings are selfish," said Dianne Devison, who supervises the gorillas at the Africa Pavilion. "We're always trying to find a way to get something else. We're never satisfied by what we have."

There is one more thing the animals understand.

"If circumstances change, and there is less prey in the domain," said Duncan Bourne, supervisor of the African Savanna domain, "then every species suffers."

Remember that. You're the prey.


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