11 FEBRUARY 1989, Page 51


The lesser breeds


In Competition No. 1560 you were in- vited to write a poem celebrating one of the less publicised inmates of a zoo. I once worked in a zoo, but only as a flunkey in the restaurant. The animals I saw most of were rats, some of which my humble colleagues and I managed to kill with odd bits of kitchen equipment. During my lunch hour, there was nothing to do but look at the inmates, so I was soon familiar with the lesser publicised ones: I became obsessed with owls, interested in iguanas, Passionate about pumas (there were two Who copied each other's poses and always looked like book-ends), and fascinated by the fennec, or zerda, a lugubrious little African fox with enormous ears, a picture of which hangs in my loo. M. G. Watson Pleased me by celebrating Przewalski's horse, a Mongolian number, and Grub Smith, Felix Stowe, T. Griffiths, Roger Woddis and Peter Hadley all deserve something more than the nothing they are left with. The prizes — £.15 to each, except for Gerard Benson, who gets £8 — go to those printed below, and the bonus bottle of Cockburn's Late Bottled Vintage Port 1982, presented by Cockburn Smithes & Co. Ltd, is won by Philip A. Nicholson, who picked on my true bete noire.

Bird-eating spiders provoke from outsiders Expressions of loathing and fear, These visitors pass their enclosures of glass With distaste and an ill-natured sneer, But people of learning, kind-hearted, discerning Arachnid-lovers like me, Know how appealing, goodnatured and feeling These furry creations can he. We feel it's a shame that they've got a bad name For vices that hardly exist, They don't often bite, so our danger is slight, But it's strange how suspicions persist. Mind you, to be fair, there are others who share Different views that will never be heard, Like an insect or two, perhaps the odd shrew, And of course the occasional bird.

(Philip A. Nicholson)

I made a trip to Regent's Park To see if the Tasmanian Devil (Did two of these sail on the Ark?) Was bona fide, on the level.

I'd watched a beast in some cartoons That bore the very self-same title.

It howled and screamed like nine baboons; To see it for myself was vital. I got directions from a bloke To where I'd find the evil bugger, But when I found it — holy smoke! You never saw a creature snugger.

It lay curled up and fast asleep, Its little eyes not even blinking.

It could have been a harmless sheep, So quiet it was. It set me thinking.

(Basil Ransome-Davies) In his tank all day he lies Staring with unwinking eyes As the visitors exclaim, 'Ain't he got a funny name?

What a slimy, ugly brute!

Is he fish, or snake, or newt?'

Of emotion not a trace Flickers on that solemn face.

Does he fret that he must pass All his days behind this glass, Never to be fully grown, Always living on his own, Never able to philander Like an adult salamander?

It must take a Iona bottle

To be a captive axolotl! (0. Smith) There's a row of dusty cages In a corner of the zoo, Where they keep such curious creatures As the rat-tailed Potoroo, All the tag-ends of each species That have never made the grade, All the beasts with ugly faces, That are better not displayed.

While the Panda hogs the limelight And the Chimps are taking tea, There's this row of Darwin's misfits That the punters never see, Unless someone makes an effort, Which is what you have to do.

Strike a blow for the neglected, Go and see the Potoroo! (John Sweetman)

The Long-tongued Bat

They ride the air, pig-snouted things, Monsters from some weird Hallowe'en; Thin, angled bones define their wings, Like Leonardo's flight machine.

This nightmare beast, this flickering spectre Prickles my spine — yet feeds on nectar.

(Gerard Benson) The three-toed Sloth Is usually loath To spare you the time of day, Which comes as a blessing When others are pressing To have their cacophonous say.

While animals call And kids caterwaul As if to be quiet were a crime, The three-toed Sloth Considers that both Are simply a waste of his time. (Rosie Ravening)