COPENHAGEN, Aug. 28 (Reuters)-
In an experiment intended to make visitors reconsider their connections with the natural world, the Copenhagen Zoo has added two new primates to its collection of baboons, orangutans, chimpanzees, and lemurs: a Danish couple representing Homo sapiens.
Living out their daily lives in a plexiglass-walled apartment between the baboons and a pair of lemurs, Henrik Lehmann, an acrobat, and Malene Botoft, a newspaper employee, say they hope to make visitors think about their origins.
"The most visited animals in the zoo, apart from the predators, are the apes, because we see in them something of ourselves," Mr. Lehmann said today over a beer in the couples's small but cozy air-conditioned enclosure. "This puts that similarity into context."
"It's a mirror, you can look at yourself," he added.
Mr. Lehmann and Ms. Botoft moved in last Sunday, doing much of the installation work themselves.
"We were near fainting from exhaustion and I could hardly get up but I made a cup of coffee with warm milk," Ms. Butoft wrote in her diary, which was published in the daily newspaper Berlingske Tidended, where she works as a secretary and writer.
"I drank it on the sofa and ate a meatball with cheese while people looked at us,"she wrote. "Henrik slept."
The human beings will remain on display until Sept. 15.
Ms. Butoft said that she finds the neighbors, particularly the baboons, entertaining, but added that the lemurs next door are an annoyance at night.
"There are only 2 of them but they make a noise as if there were at least 30," she said. "Exactly once every hour they mark their territory with uninhibited screaming."
Today, the enclosure, complete with a standard zoo label giving details of Homo sapiens's habitat, diet and other basic information, was surrounded by enthusiastic children and slightly more reticent adults.
"I think it's cool," said 10-year-old Peter Hansen.
"It's certainly an interesting idea", his mother added.
Mr. Lehmann said that adults seem to feel more comfortable looking at "the real apes" because they are uninhibited by social conventions against staring, while children have no reservations about pressing their noses against the plexiglass walls.
He said he is frequently asked if the couple intend to publicly display the more intimate areas of human activity, but said that was not their intention as "it's not interesting."
The enclosure has a combined kitchen-living room, an adjoining bedroom and a small workshop where Mr. Lehmann works at his passion--restoring classic British motorcycles.
The living quarters also includes a sofa, chairs, bookshelves and other features of the human habitat--fax, computer, television, stereo and telephone.
Toilet and washing facilities are in a nearby building.
A zoo information official, Peter Vestergaard, said that the display was partly for fun but that, like Mr. Lehmann, he hoped it could also encourage people to confront their origins.
"We are all primates," Mr. Vestergaard said. He added that Mr. Lehmann and Ms. Botoft "are monkeys in a way, but some people find that hard to accept. This is a way to maybe help people realize that."