The other day I had the occasion to take myself to Ragunan zoo. It was one of those rare moments when various circumstances rolled about on top of each other and created a bit of a mess and, lo and behold, everyone was looking in this direction or another and one could saunter past, hands in one’s pockets, whistling, and do whatever one felt like; and I felt like a stroll through a pleasant park, which is what Ragunan is.
Surprisingly, there were also some animals, other than rats and mosquitoes. Unlike the latter two, which are Jakarta’s favorite pets, the pets at Ragunan are locked up safely behind bars, presumably to protect them from their keepers. This strategy seems to have failed at Surabaya zoo, according to various reports, but thankfully for me, and the pets I was strolling amongst, we were far from Surabaya, that steamy and overheated town off to the right of the island. Rather, I was in the leafy green bosom of Ibu Kota (forget Monas; it’s got nothing on Ragunan, which is the more serious patch of artfully arranged shrubbery), enjoying the vacant verdancy and musing upon life. Whilst so doing I happened to spot some of the pets, which prompted more musings.
Said creatures were indeed safely ensconced in a protective cage to keep the horrid humans at a safe distance. They were sitting nicely, looking around without bothering anyone, occasionally scratching themselves; the monkeys were, I mean, not the humans. The humans were behaving badly, as usual, pointing rudely and shouting at the nice monkeys while throwing pieces of fruit and rubbish into their cage, some of it lodging on the “Do not feed the animals” sign. Business as usual.
What attracted me to these particular monkeys was their astonishing appearance: they reminded me of friends of mine and, as I pondered more, they reminded me of me. I can’t say they presented a flattering portrait: short, reddish hair done in a kind of lank pageboy-look, as if their stylist had been of a tender, impressionable age when watching far too many Elton John music videos; beady, moist eyes too close together that had an echo of George W. Bush in them; a long, floppy pink nose that seemed to be the result of a happy and fruitful relationship with red wine meeting an angry husband’s fist; more reddish fur on the shoulders creating an epaulette-effect, reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover; exposed, large, pinkish-white nipples begging for piercings but instead sadly unadorned; a protruding white paunch, testimony to too many beers and a but-distant relationship to exercise; and skinny, reddish, hairy legs that were somewhat knock-kneed.
The only incongruity was a long, hairless, white tail, rather like that which might adorn a fat albino rat, and which was the one feature I regretted not having in common. Such a device would no doubt prove itself very useful in the event that one had a cup of coffee in one hand, a newspaper in the other, and wanted to open a door or pick up the car keys. Or hang gracefully from a branch or candelabra whilst reading The Jakarta Globe and sipping the coffee, since all the seats were taken at one’s favorite warung. Why we evolved our tails out of existence seems to me to be one of those issues that can be seen amongst Italian fashion designers fretting about the human body having too many protuberances to be pretty. In short, it was a mistake.
These splendid beasts were given their scientific name, Nasalis larvatus, by Wurmb in 1787. It is a little unclear whether this was the Baron Wurmb who was the Governor of Batavia or the Frederick Baron van Wurmb, the noted zoologist of the East Indies, or even whether they were the same man. More research is needed.
Be that as it may, “proboscis monkey” was written on a fruit-spattered sign. Underneath was the Indonesian name: “Monyet Belanda” (Dutch Monkey). It was certainly apt. One presumes that, at the time, it wasn’t widely used by the Dutch. These days, “bule” is used freely and easily. I’m told it is Javanese for “white cow”. Meanwhile, some bule I know refer to the citizens as “little monkeys”.
There seem to be quite a lot of animals in the zoo.