Freide Headshot_SketchIf you asked me to list every zoo I have ever visited, I could do it with ease. The San Diego Zoo? You bet. Franklin Park Zoo? Check. Baghdad Zoo? Sure have — right before Saddam Hussein closed it for renovations in 2002. Just because I have an impressive resume doesn’t mean that I’m a zoo expert. In fact, there is one genre of zoo that I have been avoiding altogether out of both convenience and rational, crippling fear: dark zoos.

Dark zoos, otherwise known as “caves,” have their own special animals that rattle my bones to the core. Despite what the propagandists at Scholastic may lead you to believe, dark zoos are home to more than just bears and bats. Salamanders without eyes, fish without eyes and spiders without eyes all dwell in these dark zoos, where they constantly murder and digest one another under the featureless veil of anarchic abyss. Dark zoos foster ecosystems that are as unique as they are complex. With each level of consumption on the food chain represented, animal life in dark zoos is sustainable and — unfortunately — likely to outlive all of us.

If you ever get stranded in a dark zoo like my friends Kenny, Ben and Harper did in 9th grade (rest in peace), consider embracing your entrepreneurial side by collecting bat feces for resale as you search for exits. Bat feces, known as “guano,” are highly sought after as a fertilizer due to its high nitrate content and ability to repel farm thieves. Many claim that removing bulk guano from dark zoos for resale would deprive many troglobites (animals that live entirely in the shadows of dark zoos) of their sole source of nutrients. But please keep in mind that many animal rehabilitation centers would not exist without capitalism, so do whatever you want.

Though I have not visited a dark zoo, I recently made an attempt to simulate the environment. Armed with nothing but the cushions from my parents’ loveseat, a torn up comforter and a Cave-Dwelling Rat Snake (Orthriophis taeniurus ridleyi), I created an ersatz dark zoo in the comfort of my own duplex. While I was too terrified to enter the dark zoo myself (I will not become another Franz Reichelt), I strapped a GoPro to my sister Meghan’s head, put her in the complex, and sewed the comforter shut — there is no sacrifice too large for The Hoya. After fifteen minutes of wailing followed by fifteen minutes of silence, I cut my sister out of the contraption and began reviewing the footage.

Unfortunately, Meghan got blood on the lens early in the process, so I don’t have all that much to relay to you except that Cave-Dwelling Rat Snakes are good at destroying families. I would try the experiment again with the hope of greater success, but my sister’s blood seeped into the GoPro’s hardware and fried the thing.

I tried to stop writing this column after my experiment killed my sister, but my therapist says that it would be better if I completed and submitted it. Apparently it’ll give me a sense of “finality.” I guess I just haven’t come to terms yet with the fact that my cowardice directly led to the death of a loved one, especially when my actions were so clearly reckless in hindsight. A lot of people are telling me that it’s not my fault that she was strangled by that Cave-Dwelling Rat Snake, but I know that they’re just telling me that because I’m still here and she is not. I keep hearing that I’ll find a “new normal,” and I can’t see it being anything other than chronic anguish and an unshakable urge to amend my past. I’m slowly learning that time doesn’t heal all wounds — sometimes an infection forms in place of a scab and your hope evaporates like the last droplets of water on a beached whale too weak to thrust itself back into the ocean.

Thanks for reading Animals Among Us! I hope that you learned a lot about the animal kingdom, and I hope you learned a little about yourself too. Be sure to check back in whenever I am well enough to continue and get another one of these puppies (Canis lupus familiaris) published. Until next time, remember: animals!

“Doug Freide” is a rising senior in the College. Animals Among Us appears every other Sunday.

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