The 8th graders at SMS have a new biology assignment: they'll be put into groups, and each group will study an animal and write a report based on their observations. The best project will win it's creators passes to a local water park. To make things even more interesting, the local zoo has partnered with SMS to help with the projects. Buses will take any intersted kids to the zoo after school so they can study the animals there.
Mary Anne is put into a group withy Alan Gray and Howie Johnson. She's not thrilled about that, and she's REALLY not thrilled about the competitiveness that Logan and Alan have going. Her group DOES manage to come up with a good idea, though. They're going to study the bears, the seals, and the emu and call it "Fur, Feathers, and Fippers." Mary Anne studies the emu first, but there isn't a whole lot to study; it pretty much just rests under a tree. She DOES decide to name it Edith, so the day wasn't a total waste. :) The next day, there's a demonstration of painting elephants, and Mary Anne decides to attend before workring on her project. While she's there, she overhears two of the zoo's employees discussing Edith's escape. She was caught and herded back to her enclosure before any damage was done, but Mary Anne still rushes right over to Edith's pen as soon as the elephants are done painting. There are no broken fences or anything, but Mary Anne DOES notice some berry stains on the ground nearby. She also overhears the zoo director, Mrs. Wofsey, tell another worker that she's lost her master key...the one that can open all the cages in the zoo.
Mary Anne is pretty suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Edith's break for freedom. After all, the bird bascially just sits around all day. There's very little chance, as Mary Anne sees it, that she let herself out of the pen. The BSC members talk about possible suspects; there have been protestors outside the zoo every day they've been there, and some of them have even sent Mrs. Wofsey threatening notes. They've also noticed a couple in matching sweatsuits who seem awfully interested in the animals, but not in the same way that most zoo visitors usually are. One of the next times that Mary Anne is at the zoo, she sees those same people. There's also another escape; a giraffe.
There are two gorillas at the zoo (they're on loan from another place), and one of them can use sign language. Jessi brings Matt Braddock to talk to her, and Matt asks her who let the emu out of her cage. Mr. Chester, one of the zoo's employees, enters the gorilla cage with their meals just then, and Mojo doesn't want to "talk" with him around. Matt asks again, and this time, Mojo signs "food." They figure she's just hungry, and leave it at that.
On another zoo afternoon, Mary Anne is attending a lecture about Mojo and James (the gorillas) when news breaks that there was almost another escape. It was the gibbons that time, and Mary Anne is and Logan think they know who did it. They'd seen that couple in matching outfits discussing the price of a gibbon, and they of course assumed that they were going to steal and then sell them. Jessi takes Matt Braddock to talk to Mojo again, and once again, the only answer she'll give is "food."
Each SMS student was given a key when they started observing animals at the zoo. Those keys could be used to "unlock" information about each animal, but when Mary Anne tries using hers at the bear exhibit, she finds that it doesn't work. She'd had no problem with it previously, and it doesn't take her long to realize that she's holding Mrs. Wofsey's missing master key. She knows it has to have come from someone in her group, and that Mary Anne picked it up by mistake when they all emptied their pockets onto a picnic table to find money for a soda. She thinks it's Alan, but he denies knowing everything about it. It was actually Howie; he'd found the key in some bushes, and he'd been the one to open Edith's cage. He didn't have anything to do with the giraffes and gibbons, though. The key was already in Mary Anne's possession at that time. Luckily, she has plenty of witnesses who could vouch that she was nowhere near either exhibit when the gates were opened. Mary Anne, Logan, and their group members put their heads together, and settle on Mr. Chester as the one who's guilty. He doesn't like Mrs. Wofsey much, and he's been caught lying about his whereabouts. He also has a key, and could easily unlock any gate he wanted. Mary Anne and her friends go to tell Mrs, Wofsey about what they suspect, and she sets up a trap for Mr. Chester. If he really wants to make the zoo look bad, he'll try and set Mojo and James free. Sure enough, he tries just that. What he DOESN'T know, though, is that Mojo and James were moved to another pen, and the two gorillas in the cage are zoo employees in disguise. Mrs. Wofest is so grateful to Mary Anne and her friends for their role in catching Mr. Chester that she gives each of them lifetime passes to the zoo. Also, Mr. Chester's guilt explains why Mojo kept signing "food;" he was the one that fed them.
Meanwhile, the BSC and their charges are helping raise money to free an elephant that's being kept in a small cage at a local mall. They want him moved to a more appropriate home, so they organize all sorts of fundraisers to help. The donations they recieve, with some help from a wealthy donor, get the elephant moved to a wildlife park in Florida.
Thoughts and Things
- When I was a little kid, my mom took me to a mall that was displaying a tiger in a cage. I don't remember which mall it was, but I do remember that the tiger could only take two or three steps in either direction. He just kept pacing back and forth, over and over again. Even though I was really young at the time, it disturbed me to see him like that, and I've never forgotten it. That's probably why I didn't hate the elephant subplot.
- Mary Anne, Howie, and Alan complain at one point that a soda costs them a whole dollar. Sheesh. At my local zoo, a 20 oz bottle from a vending machine would run them $3.
- The protestors in front of the zoo wanted the animals freed. How is it more humane to set animals free that probably couldn't survive than to have them in zoos, where they're well taken care of and can educate people?
- By the way...MAry Anne's group got an A- on their project. They had to toss their zoo idea since Alan cheated, and study Tigger instead.