The Bronx Zoo, long a trailblazer among the world’s zoological reserves, opened its exciting new Loitering Teens exhibit Saturday to the anticipation of zoogoers nationwide.
“They are fascinating,” said Ronald Fehgr, 51, a member of the Bronx Zoo Board of Directors and the man who lobbied hardest for the exhibit. “The public will enjoy watching them hang out and smoke in an attractive natural setting.”
The loitering teen is indigenous to many commercial areas throughout the U.S., but this is the first time they have been captured and put on display.
They are recognizable by their large Starter-brand jackets, baggy and ill-fitting pants, sullen attitudes, piercings on their bodies, and red speckled faces.
The zoo’s 13 specimens were found in urban areas, caught by big game hunters in a city-wide dragnet. Many were lured into traps with the promise of free cigarettes and spare change.
“The first few groups died in captivity,” Zoo spokesman Gerard Makhfuio says. “That’s to be expected, so we weren’t too disappointed.”
The exhibit will eventually consist of a half-block of city-like facade including an arcade, fast-food restaurant and concrete park. For now, though, the loitering teens have been placed in the former kodiak bear holding pen, in a comfortable setting of rocks, caves and small pools of potable water. Plans to place a video arcade game inside the pen as soon as possible have already been approved by the zoo board.
“They appear to be comfortable in the rocky setting, but for the most part they seem to mope around a lot,” senior zookeeper Bernard Gilks says. “When the custodians come in to clean their cages, and put on some rock music, they perk up a bit. They definitely respond to music.”
One lesson zoo officials quickly learned was not to introduce parents into the teens’ cages. When this happened, according to one eyewitness, the teens became enraged, ran around the cage, and screamed repeatedly, “you just don’t understand me,” at the top of their lungs.
Also of concern to zoo officials are the mating rituals of the teens, who appear to be awkward and ill at ease around members of the opposite sex.
“We’re hoping to get them to mate,” Makhfuio says. “But as of now, all they appear interested in is shaking zoo patrons down for change and hiding from someone known only as ‘Johnny Law.’”
Still, wax statuettes of the teens were a best-seller over the weekend, and there has been talk of opening up a petting area for other humans to interact with them on a limited basis.
If visitor numbers continue to run as high as last weekend’s total, the Loitering Teen exhibit could surpass “Women In Our Midst” as the largest attraction in San Diego Zoo history.