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I Enjoy The Occasional Tranq Dart

I'm a regular lowland gorilla like anybody else. And sometimes, at the end of a particularly frantic and rampaging day, I need a little something to take the edge off.

I'm not proud of it, but then, I don't think I'm doing anything wrong, either. After a whole day of screeching territorial calls and rebounding off the walls of my artificial-ecosystem enclosure, I get pretty tense. And from time to time, yes, I do like to have a zookeeper pump me full of tranquilizers from an air-compression rifle dart.

The first time I took a hit, I fell hard. I clutched at the stinging sensation in my upper shoulder and roared with all my might. Must've put the fear of God into those poor schoolchildren, not to mention the rescue workers who were retrieving the one that "accidentally" fell into my pen (which is bull, by the way—that kid wanted to climb in). I felt disoriented and confused for a second, so I lashed out. I nearly pulled one of the zookeeper's arms out of the socket, and likely would have if my strength hadn't started to ebb.

But then I realized everything was okay. A warm, pleasant feeling of calm settled over me. It was a feeling I hadn't felt since the last time I was free, in the jungle eating twigs in the shade under a leafy rain-forest canopy, or maybe even earlier, when I was an infant suckling on my mother's sweet hairy bosom.

"This is great!" I thought. "I can feel the tension leaving my shoulders." And I'm not ashamed to admit that it's a feeling I've occasionally sought out again.

It's not a big deal. It's not as if I'm pumped up with wild-animal-management sedatives all day long. It's just those crazy days when you can't stop screaming and thumping your chest, and you need a little something to help you relax. Who among us hasn't bitten a handler's ear off? When you're bellowing at top volume and ripping your tire swing in half, a nice tranq dart can be just what the doctor ordered.

One thing is for sure: I don't have a tranquilizer dart "problem." I don't need to explain the kind of pressures a silverback living in captivity faces on a daily basis. First of all, consider my limited territorial-roaming capacity! That alone is enough to drive an ape to darts.

Or take swinging from the same old bars day in and day out. I don't think there's a single thing up there I haven't swung on at least a thousand times. It beats me how the monkeys can keep doing it without going mad with boredom.

Plus, there's the whole question of maintaining your place in the social hierarchy. Everybody on your ass all the time, trying to outroar you, or pound his chest more than you do, or make the smell of his urine dominate your areas of the habitat. It's a damned zoo.

It's hard to rise to a position of responsibility like mine, but keeping it is where the real work comes in. Every gorilla in captivity wants to be the alpha male, so I'm constantly on the offensive. I deserve to cut loose and let off a little steam with the occasional male-power display and subsequent dart.

And it's not like there's a lot of young females to go around, either. They keep the best-looking one in a special lab learning sign language. Most of the females seem infertile, anyway, and many are morose and uninvolved in the day-to-day competitive screeching of the group. So I get a little wound up now and then. Who wouldn't?

Take the day they left me in a temporary holding cage while they cleaned the display habitat. First off, it's a 10-by-8-foot space, so I'm rebounding off the walls like a racquetball inside of 20 minutes. Then, they put the cage right next to a holding pen with another alpha-male silverback in it. Hello?

After eight hours of that, I was ready to relax with a little shot in the arm. Sometimes celery and bananas aren't enough, you know? Does that make me a dart addict? I don't think so. But if you disagree, then go ahead and judge me. Be careful, though, because I could pound the living shit out of you once this dart wears off.

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