First off, the backstory, because it leads into the image better.
I think it was 1999. I was touring Florida on one of my photo trips, and working my way back north along the Atlantic coast, having gone down on the Gulf side. Sitting in my motel room one evening, I was determined to make one more significant stop someplace before wrapping the trip up, but didn’t have any good ideas. I was a member of the NC Zoo at that point and thus of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which provided reciprocal discounts at various aquariums and zoos across the country. I had thoughtfully kept the member list in my wallet with the card, and took it out to see what might be nearby. Just names were listed, not cities, and when I came across “Brevard Zoo,” I was delighted to discover that I was spending the night just south of the county, and the zoo itself was perhaps fifty kilometers away, about a half-hour drive directly up the interstate. Kind of a no-brainer at that point.
It wasn’t a large zoo, but it had a wide variety of geographical areas covered, and some quite interesting species – I was especially fond of the tapirs, which excitedly accepted some bananas from a keeper as she sprayed them with insect repellent, but I was also pleased to see capybaras for the first time. Look both of these up if you’re not familiar with them because they’re cool.
Standing alone under an overhang of grapevines, if I remember right, I was looking with chagrin at the enclosure of the black-capped squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis) from behind a barrier. The wire of the cages was too prominent, and squirrel monkeys too “handsy” to let people get within reach, so I wasn’t able to do the typical trick of getting right up against the cage and either shooting a tightly-cropped version that avoided the wires, or fuzzing them almost to obscurity with a short depth of field. I resigned myself to not being able to get anything useful from a stock photo standpoint – it would be too obviously a zoo shot.
When I was switching to a new roll of slide film and was juggling the film can, one of the monkeys became captivated by this sight, and seemed quite familiar with the object in my grasp. Stretching out from the front of the cage, the primate beseeched me, soundlessly, to hand over the film can:
I toyed briefly with the idea of tossing an empty can to the monkey, sure that it couldn’t get it through the wires even if it did successfully catch it, but I was also sure that it could manage to get into other mischief with it, even if only intense agitation when the can couldn’t be pulled through the wire. Also, zoos tend to frown on that kind of thing (with good reason.) But of course I snapped a few frames, with the flash producing an intense sparkle from the eyes that only seems to enhance the proffered handshake. It’s always bad news to shake any hand extended through a barrier.
Two little items of trivia. The souvenir sea turtle shirt that I purchased in the gift shop remained my favorite for better than a decade, becoming The Girlfriend’s favorite once she laid eyes on it some years afterward – I still have it but it’s not really in condition to wear now, and we’ve searched in vain for a new one. More interesting, however, was that when I lived in Florida from 2002 to 2005, I lived in Brevard County, but never got the chance to visit the zoo again, one of my bigger regrets. And I’ve been saving my film cans too.