Life at the zoo hadn’t been the same since the zookeepers went on strike. It started off as a one-day walk-out over pay and conditions but since no-one could find the keys to get back in they’d decided to extend the strike indefinitely just to save face.
Pickets stood guard at the main entrance holding such placards as Feed The Aminals and More Hay Less Hours. There had been the usual scuffles over the wording and spelling of the banners but no-one apart from the Royal Mail delivery driver got bitten. In a brotherly symbol of solidarity a small group of touring myna birds joined the growing numbers instead of flying to warmer climes when the opportunity arose.
And that opportunity arose all because of the meerkats. They quickly realised the gravity of the situation when concerned customers jammed their web-server after the share price dropped. Phones rung incessantly and news of the strike spread like an overly-priced fossil-fuel fuelled wildfire.
This particularly upset the Sumatran tiger who’d reinvented himself as a deer and pig farmer after years of abuse for being the poster boy for the oil industry. He’d always swore blind that it wasn’t him but sometimes after eating too much fermented fruit he’d stored from food-throwers he’d stagger about grumbling – I’ll show you a tiger in your tank – before falling asleep under the one tree in his zone.
The meerkats called a meeting in an attempt to get contracts drawn-up between the major voting blocs. Not everyone was happy though and the meeting ended in a bit of an uproar.
Invertebrates made-up by far the largest single group but they couldn’t get their act together and when push came to shove, well, they just sort of fell over as no-one had the spine for a fight. They decided to abstain from any vote that put them at the bottom of the food chain.
Fish were next to boycott any votes on forming hierarchical pyramids, but only once the invertebrates had left the meeting and a motion confining them to the bottom of the food chain had been passed. Unfortunately for the fish though was their reliance on the mammals to get them back to their respective ponds. They had to sit in silence while the rest of the animals put them just above the invertebrates. Some leaped from their portable tanks in protest, others rammed their heads against the glass sides and a small minority just stared out and blew kisses to the crowd.
Although most of the birds secretly planned to fly off in the night they all stayed for the voting just to give the penguins a bit of support. The golden eagles offered to lift the penguins one by one and transfer them to a suitable relocation in the countryside but their offer was refused.
The emperor penguins, being a proud race, would never leave their ancestors’ territory, apart from the occasional walkabout to see the lions. They did respect the eagles’ offer though and let one penguin with itchy feet fulfil his dream of seeing the world. He was dropped off in Milton Keynes and was apparently doing rather well for himself by dancing in the street for food.
The voting power of the birds caused consternation in both the mammal and reptile camps. Deals were made in smoky rooms and airy cages under the cover of darkness. Committees, sub-committees and pressure-groups sprung up overnight but no overall deal could be agreed upon. The big cats formed one such group and hoped to bully its way to the top. But with a huge number of primates working in close co-operation with the amphibians they soon realised how isolated they were. They returned to lying around hoping a suitable strategy would come to them in their dreams.
One of the largest groups to emerge from the sometimes very heated discussions was the vegetarians. Led by a wise old Western lowland gorilla this group had grown steadily in numbers throughout the course of the night. The elephants had initially been reluctant to be part of any group but the gorilla persuaded them that it would be in the long-term interest of their young. As soon as the elephants joined there was a rush of applications from all backgrounds making this group the most diverse and justifying its claim of representing the aspirations of all. Hence the name: Jungle Alliance.
Meerkat analysts watched attentively from the sidelines as coalitions took shape and groups jostled for position. Working overnight and well into the next day they drew up contracts and policies suitable for members of all groups. The fluid terms and conditions made understanding them difficult for some of the younger animals but wise old heads like the Western lowland gorilla made a healthy commission explaining all the ins and outs of the small print.
And this is what started the next movement which eventually led to the revolution. Life passed relatively smoothly during the first week with only one minor incident involving a youthful lion and a baby zebra’s head. A meeting was called and the idea of compensation to the baby zebra’s mum was agreed upon in principal, although the actual compensation would be decided after the weekend’s lottery.
The mummy zebra accepted this adjournment as she too had put her name down for the Saturday night lottery. It had been advertised as the answer to solving the zoo’s food crisis and she was more than willing to help out in any way she could.
The gorilla and his sidekicks, the white-cheeked gibbons, had spoken beautifully of the zoo’s big society and how everyone was in it together. They’d talked about how they would all sink or swim together as they were all in the same boat. This confused mummy zebra as she thought only fish could swim and they didn’t even have a boat. But when explained to her that this was an idiom she decided to just agree with them before she got even more confused and looked stupid.
Hers was one of the first numbers pulled in Saturday night’s lotto extravaganza - as it was marketed by Gorilla Ltd - and she wiped the tears of joy from her huge eyes as she made her way to the holding cage behind the main stage. Over the next two hours the cage filled with several gazelle, three sheep, two wildebeest and a penguin wearing a black eye and Welcome to Milton Keynes badge.
They felt so lucky to be joint winners of the grand mystery prize and doing their bit for the big society. Mummy zebra passed around a before and after photo of her baby and received the oohs and aahs of the others with considerable pride. They all agreed that things were going to be different from now on.
Outside the zoo the strike continued without any hope of a breakthrough. The only sign of progress so far had been the election of one of the myna birds as public relations officer. If only they could learn from the aminals and their community-based big society perhaps things might be different outside too.