Cages of Love

According to Plutarch, when the Indo-Greek King Menander of Bactria died, around 130 BCE., the cities of his kingdom laid rival claims over his remains. In the end, with great difficulty, they agreed to divide his ashes in equal parts among the cities, and to erect monuments to enshrine them. 

Recently I learned that something similar happened with Copito's relics: the Barcelona Zoo and the Natural History Museum contested over his remains too. In the end, they were divided among the institutions; the entrails were burnt and placed into an urn along the seeds of an African tree, afterwards planted somewhere in the zoo; the brain and the eyes are kept frozen in a laboratory, for future research; the epididymis, the sperm storage, is kept in another institute; whereas the skin and skeleton ended up in the museum's jurisdiction, albeit under a rather peculiar clause, which stipulates that Copito's remains will never ever be displayed. To the zoo's team, his caregivers, Copito's dignity has to be protected to the very end. So skeleton and skin are kept safe, out of the public sight, in the museum's warehouse, only available for scientific research. After all Copito was the only albino gorilla known to date, there's much we can learn from it. 

I feel for them. I guess at the time the grief was too much to bare. Yet it may seem odd citing dignity in Copito's case, considering that his family was killed when he was a cub, he was captured and locked in a cage, where he spent 36 years. Some will argue that the cage was his salvation from a number of human menaces, like poachers, albino specimens are highly priced in the black market. So perhaps its true that this painful path allowed him to sire twenty one youngsters with three different companions. After all the reproduction of the genetic material is all that matters to the genes. I guess if asked, the genes would have been all for the cage, freedom be damned.

Indeed, we do have an extremely bizarre relationship with cages. Our cages are not just for the animals we fear or study, they're also for those we love. We place humans in them too, those we fear, those we abuse, and even the most admired and beloved ones. The terms golden cage or gilded captivity exist for a reason. Copito was inserted in the strange realm of subjugation/veneration that we human beings have created and that we're so fond of. In the Milinda Panha, king Menander is quoted saying: "As a lion, the king of beasts, when put in a cage, though it were of gold, is still facing outside, even so do I live as master in the house but remain facing outside. But if I were to go forth from home into homelessness I would not live long, so many are my enemies". In how many of the famous names of todays world, does king Menander words will find echo? Months ago Britney Spears was theoretically liberated of her golden cage. Wasn't Lady Di escaping hers? Or her son, Prince Harry, ran away from his, just to be caged in a cheaper one in California.

Of course Copito's captivity is a completely different matter. I for one abhor zoo's and alikes. And leave the discussion for another post. What can been said is that contrary to most captives, Copito de Nieve was deeply loved by the people and the city. Eighteen years have passed after his departure, his memory still lives in the heart of many, but it's reaching the point of risking oblivion. The tree at the zoo it's gone, after some renovations; there's no Copito's statue to be seen and no skeleton to be admired. As I said before, he was the only albino Gorilla known to date. On the bright side of the story, we finally know why he was albino. Tomás Marqués and his team, from Pompeu Fabra University, sequenced Copito's genome, and discovered Copito's albinism was due to endogamia, he was the offspring of an uncle/niece relationship.

Hopefully Copito's Mediterranean experience will not be in vain, and through the scientific research we can redeemed our beloved gorilla, just as king Menander subject's did. 


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