I wonder how many non-German speaker visitors to the Big Cat house at Berlin Zoo understand the implications of this sign beside the Lion cage? It translates as 'Watch Out! Lion sprays urine through the bars.', and yes, it really does, we've seen it! If we could only catch it on video that would be a great post to YouTube!
You wouldn't think it of the old chap, would you? When he roars though, the whole zoo knows who is König.
The Big Cat house is one of my favorite places at Berlin Zoo, but it is an area electrically tensioned with primeaval power, anger, awe, fear, contradiction, hope, and sadness. Of course, these magnificant animals should not be here, they should be wild in their natural environment. But their Heimat is being rapidly destroyed by the expansion of humans and they are being driven to the limits of extinction.
But the people who are pushing them out are the poorest on the planet and surely need to exist too, and don't want to meet a ten-foot long predator with razor-sharp teeth and claws as they go about scraping a living. Berlin Zoo have a breeding program to at least try and preserve threatened species, but for an existence confined to caged enclosures? Is that fair to their million-year long evolutionary-honed instincts?
However, on a personal human level you are there metres away from a beast that could rip you to pieces, and that frisson of excitement is heart-beatingly glorious. And there is also the sheer, astounding beauty of these creatures; their silky coats and colours, their graceful muscle-rippling movements, their intelligent predator's eyes summing you up.
I love and respect these creatures; I am saddened that they are caged up; but I am thankful that I can be privileged to share their space and look into their eyes one-to-one.
Of the big cats, my favorite are the tigers (even if their cage does make them look like they are on a graph-sheet), and at least they don't piss on you through the bars!