Darwin's travels aboard HMS Beagle in the 1830s helped him to refine his theory of evolution.
His successors won't have to travel so long and so far to confirm the process appears to be in reverse.
A recent day at a safari park provided ample evidence that the gap between humans and the animal kingdom is narrowing and, in some cases, has closed. The giraffes had every reason to view visitors with lofty disdain as the descent of man took on a totally new meaning.
At feeding time mounds of food were torn asunder and consumed voraciously. In contrast the animals were models of decorum: they looked sleek and healthy as they tucked into their five-a-day. The human diet of industrial quantities of chips and burgers suggested the healthy Scot is more endangered than the Bengal tiger. Male and female waistlines made the white rhino look svelte if not undernourished.
In the enclosures bears and meerkats displayed high-level parenting skills to model good behaviour for their wee yins. On the other side of the fence the tiny Taliban ran amok. It put me in mind of the possibly apocryphal story of the Glasgow primary school headteacher who received a phone call warning her a lion had escaped from the circus and was heading for her school playground. "It'll just have to take its chance," was her reply.
A day at the park provided human parents with opportunities to educate their offspring. A guide pointed out one female chimp was in season. "What does that mean Dad?"
"I don't know son, probably means the park isnae open in the winter."
Victorian anthropologists once studied the body art of primitive people. The acres of tattooed flesh on view at the safari park would have provided them with a life's work. I couldn't help but read the inscription on the back of one matron's neck. "If you can read this your (sic) too f****** close."
As I left the park I found old habits die hard. As a former teacher I tried to engage a youngster in conversation. "What was the most interesting thing you saw today, son?"
He eyed me with suspicion and scorn before replying: "The dodgems."
Tom Shields will now appear every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
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