On Captivity MAG

By Unknown, Unknown, Unknown

      I take a deep breath and hold it, coveringmy mouth and nose with my "STAFF" shirt. Grabbing the handle of therusty fridge, I yank open the freezer. I snatch a translucent pink mass in abaggie and slam the door. Exhaling sharply and then inhaling cautiously, I hopethe stench of dead fish didn't have time to permeate the air. It did; it alwaysdoes. I open the bag and grab around until I break off what's needed: afrostbitten fetal mouse. I plunk it under a heating lamp and replace its siblingsin the cold darkness. This is lunch for the Eastern milk snake at the Cape CodMuseum of Natural History.

He is ravenous; snakes of his size eat onceevery seven to ten days, and this is day eleven. I drop the defrosted mouse intothe fish tank full of pine needles and covered with netting, and wait. Flick,flick, out flies the snake's tongue; he is flinging scent particles back to theJacobson's organ. He smells the mouse.

He is not impressed. Snakes havepits on the sides of their heads for sensing body heat; he knows the lukewarmmouse is dead. If he were in the wild, he would not touch it since dead creaturescarry disease. I wiggle my fingers inches from his head, over the mouse, and heperks up. He makes his move, striking the backside of the mouse with lightningprecision He unhinges his jaws and begins to swallow. In the wild, attacking amouse from the back would be a death sentence; you have to attack the front firstbefore it bites. Additionally, he is a constrictor but he no longer attempts tostrangle his prey. We have broken the wild in him, all its grace and beauty,because of the choice of a human to keep him captive after he hatched in theirbasement. I note on his yellow clipboard that he ate and continue myrounds.

I open another, more spacious habitat and greet "Mr.Box." An Eastern box turtle, Mr, Box is in half hibernation and very cold. Ilift him like you would hold a Big Mac and he turns his calloused head and fadedred eyes to face me. I bring him into the back room and rub vitamins into hisshell. In the winter, captive turtles tend to get a condition called soft shelldue to a Vitamin D deficiency (caused by lack of sunlight). The lotion preventsthis. I flip Mr. Box over and begin to rub lotion into the bottom of his shell.Or what's left of it. Mr. Box is another casualty of human intervention; he wasattacked by someone's dog (since box turtles ingest poison mushrooms, coyotes andfoxes instinctively leave them alone). His bottom shell was hanging by a ligamentwhen he came to us. With gauze, epoxy and fiberglass, he was patched up; hisartificial shell will never come off and he will never again be free. His is thestory of many turtles who have come to the museum mauled by dogs, lawn mowers andcars. Some we save; some die.

There are other turtles. Myrtle, a Northerndiamondback terrapin (a Native American word for food turtle), was taken from anest a raccoon had ransacked and imprinted. Today, she swims alone; her mateHenry died. She spends all day swimming, grasping and tearing with her majesticspeckled paddles, yet traveling nowhere. When she finally expends her energy, shecloses her wrinkled eyelids and pulls in her limbs, often being mistaken fordead. She is most definitely alive, however, at feeding time. To Myrtle, those inblue shirts are food gods who cause dead shrimp - that she attacks with vigor -to drop from the sky. I, on the other hand, imagine her as a god, albeit acaptive one.

According to Native American legend, the earth first camecarried on the back of a turtle, the perfect job for powerful, graceful (yet fartoo tame) Myrtle.

Near Myrtle is the rather motley painted turtle colony,comprised of childrens' pets and victims of chlorinated pool water. They come andgo, but the turtles with permanent homes all have names and stories. There isStinky, the stinkpot, a species that lets off a skunk-like musk when threatened,who was snagged and fortunately not seriously injured on fishing line. And thereis Big Mama, the largest and oldest resident, who has been at the museum for overa decade. And Marty, the runt, found imbedded in a swimming pool filter as aquarter-sized baby. Today, he bears the scars, deep grooves eaten into his goldenunderside.

The majority of animals come to the museum because of humans.There was Polly, the famed Bathypolypus articus octopus and her eggs that werecaught in a dragger's net. She was discovered clinging to a rock that had herRice Krispie-sized eggs glued to it, guarding them with her life. He could havelet the pink, hand-sized octopus go; he didn't. She ended up in a five-gallonbucket hauled to the alien world of the museum. She was subjected to flash bulbsuntil someone figured out they were detrimental to the eggs. A tenaciouscreature, she did her duty - living and dying for her eggs.

In theultimate sacrifice, she left the eggs and could not be persuaded back on. In thewild, her lifeless body would have distracted predators from her eggs. Today, herbabies live in a tank, 30 miles from the crevice off Monomoy where theybelong.

The animals at the museum receive what they need, but they serveas forced ambassadors to the human world - to educate so the world they come fromcan be understood. Forced by human circumstances, they struggle to survive.Sometimes, though, I wish they were all capable of living outside in wild CapeCod, where they deserve to be.

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i love this so much!


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