Mejan wondered if she’d made the right decision in caving to her son’s desire to visit the zoo. It was a place she didn’t approve of. On the one hand, it bred endangered animals for future release into the new wild zones. That part she liked. But it also preserved certain native species too dangerous for freedom, creatures forced to endure long lives in cages, denied their natural habitat and the opportunity to breed.
“I want to see them,” Benzi said, his heart set on viewing the latter in their high-security enclosures. “I need to write a report about an animal for a school project.”
Mejan’s nose wrinkled at the thought. “Why not pick a different one? An elephant or tiger? Something less scary.”
“I’m not a little kid.” Benzi huffed a challenge to say otherwise. “My teacher said the government is thinking of exterminating them, and I don’t know if that’s righteous. I want to see them for myself.”
Righteous? How could she argue with her junior professor and his big words? They stood in line for tickets to the exhibit. Benzi was ten, and his argument told her the time had come. The truth about these predators couldn’t—and shouldn’t—be denied him. A terrible choice was being discussed in every corner of the planet, and clearly, children his age weren’t ignorant of the debate.
An underground tunnel with collapsible gates led to the section of the zoo reserved for the threatening creatures. It ended at a spacious courtyard, and once she’d stepped into the sunlight, Mejan’s worries receded.
Wide bricked paths wandered toward the cages, and Japanese maples grew from round plots planted with colorful violets. Hummingbirds zoomed between branches and sipped from feeders. A butterfly garden overflowed with Monarchs, the latest species on the mend.
“This is much nicer than I expected,” she said as her son jogged ahead to the largest enclosure. She hurried to catch up and stood protectively beside him as he hooked his fingers on the chain link fence. A second fence, an electrified version, stood ten feet farther in. A stagnant moat wound between them.
She drew in a breath as six of the animals ran from their community shelter. They shrieked at each other in their rapid language.
Mejan winced. Not good. But before she could suggest they try a different area, three of the large males pounced on a female. One punched her in the face as another tried to breed with her. The female screamed as a male heaved up a rock and smashed one of the species’ rare youngsters in the head. The little one crumpled and mewled in the dirt.
In a panic, Mejan grabbed Benzi’s sleeve and dragged him from the fence. Her heart pounded in her ears as she fled. Near the butterfly garden, she squatted and stared into her son’s terrified eyes. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have brought you here. I’m so sorry. Let’s go.”
“But my project,” Benzi whispered, his jaw quivering. “Can we find some who aren’t fighting?”
“I don’t know. They’re all violent.”
“All of them?” A tear caught in his lashes, and he blinked it into submission.
She nodded and hugged him, furious at herself. “They killed off the peaceful part of their species decades ago.”
“Let’s get ice cream.” She pointed a thumb at a colorful stand with a pink awning. “We need a break from this.”
“Okay, but you still have to tell me why.”
Peppermint ice cream provided Mejan with a needed excuse to sit on a shady bench and regain her composure. Benzi’s tears had dried up, but not his questions. “You still have to tell me why they kill each other.”
Mejan blew out a sigh. “No one really knows the answer, love, because their behavior makes so little sense. Researchers think they have something wrong with their brains. Some sort of dominant genetic defect. Supposedly they’re brilliant, but until we moved here, they used their intelligence to find newer and more effective ways to kill each other. For generations, they killed without shame–other animals, butterflies and bees, trees, and plants. They destroyed everything necessary for their own survival, including their air, water, and soil.” She shook her head in disbelief. “They even wrecked the weather.”
Benzi gave her a quizzical look. “The weather?”
She shrugged. “I know it’s hard to believe, but yes, even the weather.”
They finished their ice cream and dropped their sticky napkins in a recycle bin. Hand in hand, they strolled down the path, seeking a quieter enclosure. Benzi halted. “When did they start killing their offspring?”
Mejan’s shoulders slumped as she faced him. “I don’t know. But think about it. It’s hardly a surprise that one day they’d aim their weapons at their young. What still baffles our researchers is that they didn’t seem to mind all the death. In fact, their leaders made it easier and easier to keep killing.”
“That’s why we keep them all in cages, I guess.”
Mejan wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they walked. “Yes, that’s why.”
He gazed up at her, a somber cast to his innocent eyes. “I don’t think we need to exterminate them.”
“Because we don’t kill on purpose. And I think they’re going to finish the job without us.”
Guns are the leading cause of death for US children and teens, since surpassing car accidents in 2020.
Final image compliments of Wikipedia