Tara, Age 11, Perth, Western Australia
I am in the African Savannah part of the zoo. I am staring at the cheetah in the closure in front of me.
I am researching cheetahs as part of an assignment. I need to see all the differences between their zoo environment and their natural habitat, and also how they adapt to this modern environment.
The sleeping cheetah suddenly stretches its paws and yawns. Slowly it rises and it sleepily makes its way over to the glass I am standing behind.
I blink and suddenly it is exactly level with my face, which is strange because it would have to be able to fly to reach my height. I gasp. It is about a hundred and fifty centimetres in the air! “Weird,” I evaluate. “Cheetahs don’t fly. Cheetahs don’t fly. Cheetahs don’t fly,” I silently chant. “You’re just tired. I wonder what cheetahs would say if they knew what I was thinking.... No. No. You’re getting off track,” I scold myself. “Cheetahs don’t read minds. Cheetahs don’t fly. And cheetahs definitely don’t talk.”
“Oh yeah?” the cheetah sneers.
I blink twice. Is this cheetah talking to me? I look around to see if anyone else may have spoken, but I am alone.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you,” the cheetah says. Its mouth actually moves when it talks.
“Of course my mouth moves! Duh, how else can we talk? Geez, humans are dumb. I knew I should’ve led a rebellion against them!”
“Zeus, darling,” says another voice. Rebecca is the other cheetah. She is lying in her den. “Then no one would feed us, because we are in captivity.” She emphasizes the last word with disgust.
“I’m talking to a cheetah named Zeus?” I choke.
“Yes, and rightly so, don’t you think!” Zeus agrees. “I am big and burly and mighty! And I will find a way out!” He tries to jump the brick wall, but to no avail; he falls back down on to the soft grass. Rubbing his sore head and muttering, “Ouch”, he stumbles back over to the glass. “See?” he says to Rebecca. “We need to get out of here!”
Rebecca rolls her eyes. “But Zeus, we are fine here!” she insists. “We don’t have to hunt, as we get the meat delivered here; free vaccinations, so if we get sick, we don’t have to lie down and die and wait for the vultures to eat us. Those needles make us feel better. And we have toys to play with, a nice den, and everything else we could ever want. But if you really want to get out of here, the answer is right in front of you.”
“Huh?” Zeus swivels around to look at me.
Rebecca sighs. “Him, you moron.”
His eyes grow big as he realises what Rebecca means. He plots a devious, cunning plan. “Oh...”
My eyebrows knit together. “What?”
“Smash the window,” Zeus tells me.
“What?” I say, completely off guard.
“Smash the window,” he repeats.
“Yeah, I heard,” I tell him.
“Well, do it then!” he yells.
“No!” I protest. “I’ll get, like, a huge fine or something! Even get arrested for doing something I didn’t do!”
“Humans couldn’t be that cruel,” Rebecca assumes.
“Well, you’re wrong. And even if I did want to smash it, what would I smash it with?” I shake my head, still not believing I’m talking to cheetahs. I used to think cheetahs were very intelligent animals, but after Zeus, I’m not so sure.
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