Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Always feed crocodiles at dawn

"If you retain just one thing from the training," said the old zoo caretaker, "then remember to feed crocodiles always at dawn."

What nonsense, I thought, as soon as he turned his back. When he went on holidays for two weeks, I was left in charge of feeding all animals in the reptile pavilion.

An easy job for a twenty-one year old student, since all I had to do was to follow a check-list. The instructions specified in detail which kind of food was to be given to which animals each day of the week and in which quantities. Predictably enough, the check-list for the crocodiles indicated "always feed at dawn."

Now, I was not a particularly rebellious youngster, but I must tell you that I have never believed in silly, arbitrary rules. I am the kind of person who must be convinced through reason rather than ordered around.

During my first week alone, I kept strictly to the rule. That meant that I had to wake up very early and take the tramway to the zoo at 5:30 hours in the morning. My stern discipline ended the following Monday.

When I woke up, it was already 8:15 hours in the morning, way past dawn. Big deal, I told myself. I was sure that the crocodiles in the zoo would not mind having a late breakfast once in a while.

I skipped breakfast myself, took the tramway, and arrived at the zoo at around 9:10 hours. The guard at the gate saluted me cheerfully and I was relieved to see that the late start of my duties had remain unnoticed.

I ran to the reptiles pavilion, prepared the food, and walked to the crocodiles dome. On Mondays, the zoo opens its doors at 9:00 hours and a bunch of school kids was already attentively watching the zoo's seven crocodiles.

A young woman, I guess their teacher, was standing amidst the kids, looking fearfully at the crocodiles on the other side of the moat. I nodded to the young woman as I walked past her with a bucket in each hand.

Then I bent over the parapet that surrounded the moat and began to throw food to the crocodiles. The kids congregated around me as I threw live fish at the reptiles.

One by one, the crocodiles got into the water and started to eat up the fish at a great speed. The kids' excitement grew as I uncovered my second bucket and began to throw live mice over the parapet into the water.

In case you don't know, mice can swim pretty well, but of course, crocodiles are faster. The kids applauded and one of them asked me if he could throw some mice himself to the crocodiles.

"No problem," I replied, "but the parapet might be a little too high for you." The kid told me that his name was Jack. He was a courageous little one, that Jack.

I helped him get on the parapet and sit down on the railing, with his legs hanging over the water. I passed a mouse to the kid and, smiling, he threw it down to the crocodiles in the moat. I bent over to pick up another mouse from the bucket, when I heard a shrill female cry.

What was going on? I looked around and saw the school teacher running towards me. I could see terror in her face. Had an accident happened? Was one of the kids missing? She came to a still at the parapet, took hold of Jack's arm, and pushed the kid back.

It goes without saying that she had scared him to death. Then she turned to me and began to accuse me of all kinds of crazy things. I was puzzled. What could that woman possibly have against me?

I had once read that school teachers were always stressed, so I shrugged my shoulders. "Thank you! That was cool!" shouted Jack to me as I walked away with the empty buckets.

When the old caretaker returned to the zoo at the end of the week, he asked me if I had followed the instructions to the letter. I hesitated whether to tell him the truth or not.

I had seen with my own eyes that there was no reason to get up so early in the morning in order to feed crocodiles at dawn. I had seen myself that one can feed crocodiles any time during the day without any problem.

Nevertheless, I realized that the caretaker was an old man, too old to change his ways. What was the point of upsetting him? "Yes," I confirmed. "I have followed the instructions. Once, I was five minutes late and the crocodiles were a bit impatient, but that was all."


[Image by liewcf under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]


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