Lisa Moser stuck her head out the door only to see the rain had finally started to fall. It had chased the already few visitors out of the small zoo. It was a cloudy mid-week afternoon, and the forecast said the rain threatened to ruin the next day as well.
Lisa put on her thin, transparent raincoat and her yellow, knee-high rubber boots and stepped outside. She was wearing only shorts and a T-shirt underneath the rain gear, but the air was so warm and humid she was already sweating. She wore her oversized safari hat — a present from her dad a couple of years ago, just before he passed away. She knew that most other kids her age would simply stay inside, in a dry and cosy room, but she had always been a responsible child. Her mom used to say she’d probably be as good of a zoo manager as she was herself, even though Lisa was only twelve years old.
She closed the door to the small education and science center, a small building at the far end of the zoo where she was spending most of her time when not in school. The center was not much more than an office and a tiny lab, and a small, forty-seat movie theater where Lisa helped play educational movies for school visits and parents seeking learning opportunities for their bored kids. Adjacent to it, there was a not-much-bigger veterinary center, where the zoo’s vets could perform day-to-day checkups and small surgeries, if necessary.
She wiped the drops of rain off her big oval glasses and started her usual afternoon walk. Her long dark hair was going crazy in the humid air, and she found herself thinking about cutting off her out-of-control mane. She pulled a simple, cheap hair rubber band out of her shorts’ pocket and tied it up in a long, messy ponytail.
Almost every day, she’d go from enclosure to enclosure, all the way around the small zoo, saying hi to her ‘friends’ — checking up on the animals that she loved and cared for deeply. She didn’t have many human friends because other kids thought she was weird, but she really didn’t care. Animals mattered the most to her, and she knew she’d be living and working around them her whole life.
Hey guys! Pouring today, huh? Don’t worry, it’ll be bright and sunny soon. She smiled at the little meerkats peeking out from their holes in the dirt, hiding from the pouring rain bouncing off of the enclosure’s transparent plexiglass roof.
The zoo didn’t have much more than two dozen enclosures and exhibits. As Lisa’s mom told her, they simply couldn’t afford to spread further and bring more animals in. That also meant that the money was tight, and they couldn’t afford to lose visitors, especially with the problems they’d been having with the animals lately.
It must’ve been a week now, Lisa thought. The poor creatures are acting as if they’ve gone crazy — I’ve never, ever seen anything like it!
And she was right. It was unclear why, but some of the animals, usually the most visited ones — the biggest attractions — were changing their behavior from day to day, and acting weird at best, really aggressive at worst. Ferocious. Attacking the glass walls and the steel cage bars, causing the visitors — families and small kids — to scream in horror and flee, giving the zoo a bad name.
Lisa stood next to a solitary, spacious enclosure and watched Loki, the beautiful male cougar who had been living at the zoo for more than two years. Found on his own when he was still just a two-month-old cub, he’d been brought from the northern forests and grown up right here at the zoo. Normally, in weather like this, he would have stayed at the back of the enclosure, out of the rain, licking his paws and snoozing contentedly. But not today. Today, he was pacing back and forth, snarling at the big rubber tire hanging from a branch of one of the bare trees in the middle of the enclosure. His coat was soaked, and his whiskers hung limply with the weight of water.
Something was wrong.
Lisa knew if she kept herself away from the safety fence and the steel bars Loki would probably not charge and smash himself against them. Not if he didn’t see her. She didn’t want him to get hurt, and she understood how animals behaved. She’d been volunteering at the zoo for several years now, ever since her mom took over as manager. So she just slowly backtracked, keeping herself out of sight, on the verge of tears, and went to finish her rounds, a growing sense of helplessness rising within her.
A few hours ago, her mother had phoned the police. She’d turned on the speakerphone in her office so Lisa could hear everything, and explained the issues with the animals. The police officer wasn’t very interested and Lisa couldn’t stay quiet when he smugly told her mom that the police have better things to do than visiting zoos and petting the animals.
“This is not OK! You can’t just hang up on us — there’s something going on here!” Lisa cried from her mom’s side.
“That’s my daughter,” Lisa’s Mom said, “I’m sorry, but she’s just very upset with all this—”
“Look, ma’am, we have enough problems with the humans, you understand? You should call the Animal Control Service,” the police officer replied, and hung up.
Lisa knew that calling the Service would risk the animals being put to sleep if the situation did not improve, so both she and her mom wanted to avoid that call. But they were running out of options.
After finishing her rounds, Lisa stepped into the small computer room at the movie theater. She fired up her laptop and stared again at the website she’d found earlier while trying to figure out what was going on.
What have I got to lose? she asked herself.
She clicked the ‘Contact Us’ button, and started writing the message.
“Hi, my name is Lisa, and I work at the Skywalk Zoo. I saw your website and I was wondering if you could come over so we could talk. I think I might need some help…”