A crowd of nearly 400 parents and young children gathered at the Little Rock Zoo this Sunday for a first look at “Animal Deathmatch,” a zookeeper-sanctioned showdown between various beasts that call the zoo home.
Zoo director Paula Clarke said the innovative new exhibit is designed to compete with Pulaski County’s wildly popular dog fighting rings by giving visitors a glimpse at what she calls “evolution at its finest.”
“At the beginning of each round, we explain the Circle of Life to the kids and their families,” Clarke said. “The Circle of Life may sound like ecology or perhaps a ‘Lion King’ reference, but it’s actually the lottery system we use to determine which animals are gonna duke it out.”
The Circle of Life resembles the rotating wheel that appears on the game show “Wheel of Fortune,” except that there are the names of zoo animals around the edge instead of dollar amounts. At the beginning of Sunday’s match, 8-year-old Little Rock native Billy Farmington was the lucky child chosen to spin the wheel for the very first time.
When asked what he hoped to see in the inaugural deathmatch, Farmington replied, “I dunno something cool like blood or an animal eating another one’s leg off.”
Much to the crowd’s displeasure, the first two animals selected to battle were Bethany, the zoo’s elderly giraffe, and Edgar, an aging Galapagos tortoise who is currently being treated for arthritis. After two hours of watching the animals slowly shuffle around the battle arena, the crowd started chanting, “Car-ni-vore! Car-ni-vore! Car-ni-vore!”
Zookeepers complied with the crowd’s murderous demands and removed all herbivores from the Circle of Life for the next round, but the results were still unsatisfactory. Farmington’s second pair of spins resulted in the pairing of James, an incredibly lazy polar bear on loan from the Memphis Zoo, with an unnamed vulture. At the climax of the carnage, the bear nearly stepped on the vulture, but this was thought to be unintentional.
Many families lost interest after the second match and promptly left, presumably to catch one of the area’s 8 p.m. dog fights. Clarke said she and the rest of the zoo staff are undeterred by the disappointing event.
“We may have to mix things up in the future,” Clarke said. “We’re considering adding flamethrowers or perhaps a slot on the wheel that forces a member of the crowd to fight an animal. We’re just not sure yet. We need to do what we can to make people interested in the Zoo now that the excitement from the new train is gone.”