When we went to the San DeeYogo Zoo last weekend, we paid a little extra so that we could go backstage and see the lions up close and personal. (If you’re ever there, incidentally, I highly recommend doing this, it’s not too much more money and definitely worth it.) If the lion is in a good mood, you can see him pace back and forth in his den/cage, and his more docile wife might roll around on her back, playing with a giant sprig of rosemary like it’s catnip. They can fool you into thinking their a pair of giant housecats, in fact, the two of them, until they roar at you, and then you realize that if there weren’t a giant cage and a pee guard in front of you, they’d rip your fucking head off.
Because they look cute and everything, but that’s the law of the jungle, and they are way bigger than you. And it so happens that we have big heads that allow us to outsmart them and cage them up and put them on exhibit and all that, but given the right circumstances, and those fuckers would most definitely tear your head off and don’t you forget it.
The most profound thing for me about the lions, though, was when they put the food out for them. Because the lions, they don’t want to go out on exhibit, they’d actually rather be back in the cage area, where it’s safe. But they put the food out on the exhibit so that the humans can see them, right? So they put a big piece of meat out there for the female cat, and she kind of trots out there, quickly, but not as fast as you’d expect, to get the meat. She finds it, and starts eating it, but not furiously the way a housecat might, who is afraid of some other cat taking her food. She’s pretty slow and deliberate the way only an animal who is secure of her place can be, even if she does look up every once in a while to see where her partner is, checking to see if he’s found his dinner yet or not.
And then there’s another piece of meat, and they let the male out second, and he knows exactly where his is, too. And you should see the way he goes out to get his meat. The strut that this guy has is what every adolescent male wants to have — what Le Bron James or Kobe Bryant or whomever wishes they looked like — that’s what this lion looks like heading out into the exhibit to get his meat. Watching that was the first time I really understood why they call the lion the King of the Jungle, because there is no hurrying, he’s not rushing for anything. For one thing, he doesn’t have to kill his meat, but for another — who is going to fuck with him? Nobody, that’s who. So he goes and gets his meat, and the best part is that he carries it over and sits next to his wife, and starts licking it, like he doesn’t even really care all that much about eating it, but just enjoys the ritual of it, the tearing of the flesh next to his life’s partner.
There is no room for cowards in the jungle. They get eaten — slowly.