A friend who knows of my interest in zoos sent me a link to this disturbing video:
The comments on youtube are variously horrified and gloating. One viewer says "The monkey takes the phrase 'I'M GONNA RAPE YOUR FACE' to a WHOLE new level." That's a phrase? Apparently it is: type it into Google and be amazed by the wealth of face-raping references that come up (including, prominently, the lyrics of the song "Hybrid Moment" by the horror-punk group The Misfits, which is where I found the headline for this post). More sensibly, another commenter says "This is how you get genital warts."
It's not a monkey, of course: a chimpanzee is an ape (and it does seem to be a chimp, not its - our - cousin, the bonobo); I haven't been able to identify the species of frog. The video was shot, according to the caption, at Honololulu Zoo on 11 November 2004, but has only recently gone viral. It raises a number of issues. One is a point that I've made before: zoos are not hermetically sealed; animals get out, other animals get in, scavengers, predators and - presumably the frog's case - passers by; a zoo is a small eco-system. The second issue is our notion that zoos are suitable entertainment for children. Yes, they love to see the giraffes and the elephants and the funny monkeys, but if you hang around a zoo for any length of time you're bound to see a fair amount of shitting and fucking, and even some dying (though that's one bit of business zoos mostly manage to keep offstage). I'm not worried about children watching animals mate - if they're going to know about the birds and the bees, they may as well get the lions and the baboons along the way. But there are other behaviours that aren't so obviously necessary to their education; face-raping frogs sits firmly in this category, and I'm mildly perturbed by the sound of children giggling at the spectacle.
A bigger question is, what do we make of the chimpanzee's behaviour? That's really two questions. First, is this normal behaviour for chimps or a zoo-bred pathology? Some animals, such as lions, tend to fuck neurotically in captivity, and it has been suggested that this may be part of what's going on with the bonobos, who are famous for supposedly resolving conflict through sensuality rather than, as is the case with chimps, through violence (for an overview of the whole sexy bonobo/vicious chimp myth, see Ian Parker's 2007 New Yorker article "Swingers"). Then again, lots of animals masturbate; my guess is that a young male chimp will try anything with a hole in it. I'll try to find some literature on this some time. Second, why do we humans react the way we do? Many of the youtube commenters see the chimp as perverted or cruel, a rapist, which suggests that they are anthropomorphising too much. I don't say that you should never anthropomorphise. For instance, it's clear that the great apes, at least, are capable of a degree of empathy with suffering, which is the main prerequisite to cruelty; all the same, I doubt that this chimpanzee has any real sense that the frog is suffering. But "perverted", "rapist" - these are human terms, implying some buried assumption that animals should stick to human sexual norms.
You could concentrate on a slightly less worrying aspect of all this: the apparent indifference of young mammals to the usual barriers between species - in particular, their willingness to play with other species. Here's something to take the froggy taste away: