At the National Zoo today. Signs everywhere... don't tap on the glass, don't feed the animals, don't climb on this or that thing. Normal don't-be-inconsiderate-to-the-animals stuff. At our Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia there's not quite so much signage, but there's always some jackass feeding chips to the meerkats, or another agitatating the bears.
Same at the National Zoo, though. Despite all the admonitions, it doesn't stop people from assuming that the animals are performers, or that they or their children know better than the scientists and caretakers.
The National Zoo has the Cheetah Conservation Station, and some marvelous cheetahs. We were watching them hang out on a sweltering July afternoon, and since the information panels specifically noted that sixth-graders are just the right size of prey for a cheetah, I had just been joking to my sixth-grader kid that he'd be a great snack. But we mostly just stared at the cheetahs and said "wow."
Then came this one kid who had been all over the place climbing on the railings and generally being a little nuisance twit. Here's what unreared kids do at zoos when parents let them run roughshod over everyone around them: Nuisance Kid ran up to the cheetah enclosure, jumped up the fake rock half-wall, climbed up to the mid-height railing and leaned forward over the top rail in one continuous, spasmodic, under-parented motion.
Inside the enclosure, one Great Cat of Africa That Can Run 70 Miles Per Hour saw Nuisance Kid make this approach, and started to haul ass straight for Nuisance Kid. By the time NK got to the point of leaning over the railing, there was about 150 pounds of World's Fastest Land Animal barreling toward the enclosure wall to intercept.
Of course, there was a huge pit between the cheetah and the wall, and electrified wire surrounding it, so poor hungry cheetah would not have been able to jump it successfully. If Nuisance Kid had fallen over the rail into the enclosure, there would have been kidburger. Instead, NK got a quick glimpse of how consequences could have played out, jumped the hell down fast, and did not continue being a twit.
Oh, the look in that cheetah's eyes. Panting, primed and focused. It was glorious.