Being attacked by a Komodo dragon is its own reward

I think there's a reason he's missing part of his middle finger...
Any guesses why he’s missing part of his middle finger?
Some of you may remember when San Francisco Chronicle executive editor Phil Bronstein was attacked by a 7-foot-long Komodo dragon back in 2001. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a letter to the editor gone horribly wrong, or even a marketing stunt for “Crouching Editor, Hidden Dragon” that spurred the attack. It actually happened during a special behind-the-scenes tour at the Los Angeles Zoo aimed at rewarding high-end financial contributors.

As a result, officials were forced to “re-evaluate” the special visiting privileges reserved for major donors — and without question, feeding yourself to a seven-foot lizard definitely falls into the “major donor” category.

More than a decade later, zoos are still struggling to find ways of rewarding major donors with experiences that, as one zoo official put it, “Offers a unique and exciting interaction with animals that doesn’t include offering our donors as dinner.”

The problem is, while there are certainly lots of other, safer animal exhibits that could be toured by big spenders, the danger factor — and storytelling value — drops off considerably once you leave man-eater realm. Being at a dinner party and telling how you stared down a Siberian tiger, then narrowly escaped its claws, is definitely more impressive than recalling the time you held off a hungry Toucan with nothing but a tranquilizer gun and a box of Fruit Loops.

The same goes for tales of survival that have anything to do with ovulating ostriches or outrunning giant, spitting tortoises (even if what you were wearing was labeled “Dry Clean Only.”)

The fact is, these stories are a lot like microwavable pork rinds; lots of sizzle, very little pop.

As you can imagine, brainstorming sessions have produced a number of ideas, all of which are top secret. However, through an inside source I was able to obtain a list of titles for some possible “special visit” activities.
Among them:

One potato, two potato, three potato, ROAR!
Share your Big Mac with a Razorback
Can You Find the Piranha in the Sauna?
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Exit
Jack is nimble, Jack is quick — but Jack is still asking for a bigger stick

What zoos don’t seem to understand is that there’s no need to waste time coming up with new ways to thrill big contributors. After a recent trip to the Portland Zoo, I can tell you officials just need to look at the dangers an average attendee faces during a routine excursion to their park. For example, walking past the guy who bends and contorts balloons into animal shapes is absolutely terrifying. It’s like maneuvering past someone twisting multi-colored explosives together; one false move, and the chain reaction could blow the fur off a mountain yak.

Ever run out of food pellets while you’re in the middle of the petting zoo? The only way out is to be air lifted — and that’s only after your hair and shoes have been eaten by goats.

Then there’s the monkey house. I’d just as soon skip the details, but let me just say to any honeymooners out there: if you walk by at the wrong time, the monkeys won’t be throwing rice.

In the end, it really comes down to the question of whether a big donor:
a) Gives with the expectation of receiving special privileges and recognition,


b) Wants to help sustain a quality of life for animals kept in captivity — some of which may not be alive otherwise

If, as a major donor, the answer is “B,” then zoos can skip all the monkey business and stop wasting time and money providing special experiences and privileges; for those donors, the satisfaction of contributing to the welfare of animals is its own privilege.

For donors who answered “A,” I personally volunteer to take them on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the petting zoo. Getting in will be compliments of yours truly! Getting out, however, is going to cost you…



(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

42 thoughts on “Being attacked by a Komodo dragon is its own reward”

  1. On my last visit to the zoo I learned that when opossums play “possum,” they’re actually not playing.

  2. Ha! So very true Ned. Those petting zoos can get completely out of control. Animals in captivity often develop new behaviour patterns that take humans by surprise. For instance the deer and other animals in the petting zoo are usually very shy in the wild. Once they lose their fear of humans, they become very demanding. My Dad was a manager at a large commercial bakery and he tells a story of visiting the zoo. He went by one winter day for an appointment with the zoo manager in order to try and secure a contract to supply the restaurant and all the hotdog stands with bakery products the following season. As he sat in the manager’s office waiting, a skunk wandered in, brushed his legs like a cat, and then jumped on the desk, curled up in the “In” box and went to sleep. My Dad said he froze,expecting to get sprayed at any moment. He was still sitting stiff and unmoving in his chair, staring at the skunk, when the zoo manager came in. As soon as the zoo manager introduced himself, he immediately lifted the skunk off the desk and, while chastising it, set it on the floor. My Dad inquired. and apparently the skunk had come into the zoo as an injured animal. Their vets had fixed it up and while operating removed the scent glands as the skunk was not going to be able to return to the wild. Apparently they are excellent pets once they are descented.

    Anyway, i think a tour of the petting zoo would be dangerous enough for the contributors. Perhaps meeting some skunks would get the adrenaline pumping.

    1. I’ve heard that about skunks, too. Just like cats, except without as much attutude. I’d be willing to give it a try. I’ve heard Washington D.C. has a bad skunk problem…

  3. I haven’t been to the zoo in my area in a while. I’d like to go again; on the other hand, I do prefer not being eaten or having poo flung at me.

  4. The animals play tricks on people too. A while ago I took my son to a local wildlife park/petting zoo. There were penguins and we really wanted to watch them swimming, but they were just standing around, we kept saying “Go on, swim for us” but no, they just stood there. We decided to go to see another animal, and then come back, we were gone about 10 minutes, and when we got back, I kid you not, they were standing in the exact same places as before, but now they were all wet!

  5. I didn’t even know Phil had a legit job. I just think of him as one of Sharon Stone’s many conquests. I don’t know, Ned. If I were a very bored and lonely big spender, I might want to jump in with the otters. They can’t hurt you, and they’re so happy and flip-floppy all the time. I would act like the mermaids at Ripley’s Aquarium and hold their hands and back flip with them and have a gay old time. Who wants to touch a stinkin’ lizard anyway?

    1. I have to think being Sharon Stone’s conquest would definitely be a full-time job.

      And I’m with you, I don’t get the lizard thing. If I wanted to pet something like that, I’d just become a masseuse at a retirement home in Boca Raton.

  6. LOL… I don’t really understand people that need those crazy thrills in their lives?? The balloon guy made me laugh, I hate that sound of squeaking balloons ready to explode in your face. I must have some kind of PTSD from a popping balloon as a kid. Funny story, when my wife and I were younger we were at a zoo and looking at the monkey exhibit. There was a large male that was creating all kinds of havoc and at one point he leaps on the front fence, facing the crowd, with an erection that would make most guys proud! He was screaming and yelling and making all kinds of monkey sounds. Let’s just say it was a little uncomfortable for the crowd, thank god my kids weren’t born yet!

  7. A good 23 years ago when we took our eldest daughter to MarineLand in Niagara Falls, they had the deer enclosure where you went in with pellets in hand. Well apparently deer also like trying to eat toddlers in strollers, as we found out. We left quickly and have never returned again, not just for the deer reason but for the whole idea of how they keep animals/mammals in captivity.

No one is watching, I swear...

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