A Life In Captivity | Alicia Bruzzone

Sparkle’s lost his spark.


A Life in Captivity

By Alicia Bruzzone

For The Crater Mountain Award


“Mummy, make Sparkle do something!” the young boy whined, leaning over the safety railing to get a glimpse of the latest exhibit, motionless in the display.
“Sparkle’s probably tired,” his mother remarked, dragging him down from the barrier. “We can come back and watch later.”

I’d always hated zoos, and seeing this newest addition was a sore reminder why. A life in a cage wasn’t a life at all. And calling him Sparkle! That was an abomination onto itself. They’d let the local primary school run a poll, and the name ‘Sparkle’ had won; because of the way he’d glistened in the sun. I’d glisten too if you stole me from an ice climate and shoved me in the tropics. There was hardly any shade in the shelter; nowhere for him to hide from the thousands of curious eyes that passed his cage everyday.
There was something so forlorn in Sparkle’s expression; the stooped shoulders; the lethargic way he moved. Sparkle had been installed in his new ‘home’ over a month ago, and all he ever did was stand and stare out his fence. Looking to the trees behind the barrier, and the mountains beyond that. Just seeing at him made you feel depressed.
Which was why I sat here everyday, with a large placard demanding he be released. Since Sparkle couldn’t speak for himself, I’d have to speak for him.

It had done little good so far, beyond the zoo releasing an official statement that Sparkle received the best possible care, and free from the usual predators he’d meet in the wild Sparkle would be assured a much longer life expectancy. It was all lies.
Sparkle hadn’t been intended as a solo exhibit. The zoo said they’d changed their mind about extracting a large number of an already threatened group, but paperwork proved four shipping containers had been received. Four ‘specimens’ stolen, and only one accounted for. They didn’t know a thing about the recently discovered Shumars; including how to keep them alive. Not that the zoo would ever tell the public that. So it became my job, educating the public to the secrets everybody blindly overlooked.

I set my sign against the railing so everyone could see, and walked over to the milling masses darting urgent looks to their watches. It was time for the Keeper Talk.

Most of the captives tailed the Keepers around the sides of their enclosures, knowing the khaki clad staff brought food. Not Sparkle. He averted his gaze momentarily to see what the hullabaloo was about, straightened his spine to full commanding height, and went back to staring out the fence.

“Alrighty guys!” an enthusiastic voice called through a head-mounted microphone. “This here is Sparkle. We think he’s about twenty years old, and he’s from a group we call the Shumars. Can you say that?” The Keeper paused with an enormous smile plastered on her face as she waited for the kids to repeat her. “That’s right! They’re rather primitive, as you can see. Now scientists know very little about these reclusive guys, so he’s been brought here for study. You’re actually really lucky to see him, less than a dozen people have ever seen a Shumar in the wild.”
There were the expected oohs and aahs from the crowd as I rolled my eyes. If they wanted to learn about the Shumars the scientists needed to travel, not stick them in a concrete artificial landscape. I waited for the chatter to fade. “If he’s rare, wouldn’t he be needed with the rest of the Shumars to increase their numbers?”
The fake smile of the Keeper barely faltered. “It’s true their population size is small, which is why a female wasn’t selected. In the future it’s hoped we can establish a breeding program, eventually releasing some back into their natural habitat.”
“Which has ice. And snow,” I added pointedly.
Some of the members of the crowd were starting to murmur amongst themselves as the Keeper nibbled her lower lip. “The region the Shumars draw from encounters warmer summer periods. We’re trying to observe and learn from Sparkle, if he hid in an ice cave all day we wouldn’t find out very much.” She took a deep breath, steading herself. “Why, did you know we’ve already taught Sparkle to use a toilet, much like you’d have at home. And we’ve learned Shumars are extremely territorial: Sparkle doesn’t like anyone in the habitat with him.”
“You’re his enemy!” I managed to splutter. “Why would he let his kidnappers into the only semblance of a home he has left?”
The Keeper pointed to me with an irked frown, whence I was swept upon by two rather beefy men and asked to leave. She’d called Security.
“He’s intelligent! Shumar are still people!” I screamed as they dragged me away.

The once noble hunter of the Shumar tribe seemed to understand my struggle on his behalf. His dark sorrow-filled eyes met mine as he nodded once, then went back to his vigil at the side of the electric fence, longing for his freedom.