Dear Emma and the rest of the Sumatran orangutans of Chester zoo
To you, today was just routine. To you, in your bubble of a world, just another friendly face came to talk to you again. To me, this visit was bittersweet, in fact I would say 80% bitter. In seeing you, in meeting your gaze the guilt and shame ripped through me like like a tiger's claws. Ah yes, the tiger, 7 years have past since they had disappeared. People have all but forgotten already, there were plenty of tigers safely locked away right?
You probably don't know this and I doubt that you can read this, but I write this letter to you anyway, do what you want with the letter. Look at the photograph I have included of your Asian relatives that I took during my travels nearly 20 years ago. Or you could discard it, tear it, eat it I don't care as long as you receive this. For nearly 2 centuries your people have been captured and killed and we destroy everything you know. Our growing population pressurised us, we strove for urbanisation, painting a thin venire of chrome. Our colour of comfort, but we made it worse for ourselves as our most important livelihoods were replaced by dust villages and starvation. You were not immune to our pillage I'm afraid, from that first time Charles Darwin met Jenny our blessing became your curse. 3 weeks ago the last of your Asian brethren died. We saw your demise coming, some of us tried our hardest to halt or postpone it, setting up rescue stations and reserves. But the mindless machine wirred on, it wasn't until the last 90 miles of forest remained that the Indonesian bigwigs realised what they had done. In a blind panic they planted new tree seedlings, maybe somehow in the hopes that more bears, frogs, birds and orangutans would materialise from the roots? It was already too late but perseverance drove them to try everything. Everything. Nyaru Menteng offloaded their remaining 8 charges to Western facilities where artificial habitats had been created. The rest of them watched over and monitored the remaining native population, sending out vets and human doctors to keep them alive at all costs. I watched every second of it, followed the blogs and the news. It hurt so much I didn't think I could follow anymore, grief stricken with each "progression" but I was compelled to carry on. And finally, there was one.
A male, Gregory. He never grew his cheek flanges because he had no competition. No drive to find a mate. He knew as much as we did that he was alone. No one knew why they kept him there, all knowledge of reproductive biology was forgotten and replaced with superstitious magic. We kept him there, stayed by his side, fed him and doctored him until finally at the age of 39 he died of a heart attack. The news was like a punch in the guts for all of us. It was announced as breaking news all over the world, pongo pygmeus and pongo abeli officially extinct in the wild. A minority mentioned that many captive orangs still remained in zoos and sanctuaries and that we should not be so sad. But they were quickly shushed like an outspoken attendee of a funeral. Those remaining would not last forever either once inbreeding became too rife, plus, their artificial living arrangements meant these fat, shut in orangutans would live a second rate life, plagued by the same mental ailments that the rest of us urbanites suffer. They would never know the joy, fulfilment, danger, even, of the wild. And these zoo populations were like ghosts or holograms of what used to remain.
I was afraid for the last 3 months to visit you again, incase you knew and you would turn your head away from me in disapproval. Your disgusted expression would render me speechless. But logic told me this would not happen and I had finally plucked up the courage to see you again. As always you brachiated towards the window and pressed your face against it while I talked to you and pretended to stroke your hair. You were oblivious and ignorant, I envied you. I cried and you wondered why, other humans understood and some looked forlorn themselves. I could see you and your granddaughter looking in concern at our apparent sadness. I tried to look brave for you, I played with your granddaughter as normal.
Though I had no direct influence over your demise I feel just as remorseful as the loggers did, I was careless in my choices. Living such a sheltered city life and not realising until my second decade the true dangers facing you. I chose too late to be mindful of my grocery shopping, avoided palm oil, never watched films with trained animals in. My few actions made no difference, until very recent years I was still the minority. Don't mistake me for someone self pitying, I don't want you to think I was thinking only of my own feelings and being a martyr. If anything self loathing, I've always been a misanthropist but as of late I've abandoned my species altogether. Apart from my immediate family of course. You were not the only ones that went, Asian elephants too disappeared around the same time. Mackaws of South America have almost completely been depleted. The once hopeful 200,000 chimpanzees whittled down to the last 5000. Bonobos gone already from the wild since the last 100 were taken to sanctuaries and zoos to "rebuild the population" but there were very little captive bonobos to begin in. Gorillas: 1000 (only mountain gorillas are left, ironic isn't it? We focused so much on that one race we neglected the rest). African elephants: 4. Giraffes: 100. The list goes on. And we too, **** sapiens, the most numerous of large mammals are feeling the pinch. It started with Japan over 20 years ago, people retreated more and more into the office, no longer caring to build families and the population declined. The rest followed suite, bursting at the seems we could no longer steal more land for ourselves, more destruction meant less air to breath, less food. People have started to fight their reproductive urges, like the Japanese, retreating into a single life in a cubicle. Sitting by the screen. We are committing a species wide, slow suicide. I consider this a blessing, the rest of nature can finally get even. Some are scared and upset, others relieved. The divide is equal.
I have come to visit you every 3 weeks since I was 21, I am 40 now and in that seemingly short space of time I have seen the world change dramatically while you sit and climb and think your own isolated thoughts in your little bubble.
Please accept my sincerest apologies. No matter if you read this or not. I am so so so sorry. On behalf of myself, on behalf of my species. Please forgive us.
You know how I said I wasn't doing any more primate ones? I lied.
Not a poem but... this a hypothetical future (19 years from now) and the orangutans have become extinct in the wild.