By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD

LONDON - Caged and barely clothed, eight men and women monkeyed around for the crowds Friday in an exhibit labeled "Humans" at the London Zoo.

 

"Warning: Humans in their Natural Environment" read the sign at the entrance to the exhibit, where the captives could be seen on a rock ledge in a bear enclosure, clad in bathing suits and pinned-on fig leaves. Some played with hula hoops, some waved.

Visitors stopped to point and laugh, and several children could be heard asking, "Why are there people in there?"

London Zoo spokeswoman Polly Wills says that's exactly the question the zoo wants to answer.

"Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals ... teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate," Wills said.

The exhibit puts the three male and five female "homo sapiens" amid their primate relatives. While their neighbors might enjoy bananas and a good scratch, these eight have divided interests, from a chemist hoping to raise awareness about apes to a self-described actor/model and fitness enthusiast.

For others, the aping around is just another forum for rampant exhibitionism and self-promotion.

Pointing at one heavy muscled and gleaming body on the ledge, one visitor joked that the zoo should consider a breeding program.

"You can tell why some people came here, like the big muscly men who clearly like parading around in thongs," said Damien Largey, 23.

Melissa Wecker, 21, was disappointed that the humans were wearing swimsuits beneath their fig leaves. "They're not doing anything. It looked lots better on the news," she complained.

Tom Mahoney, 26, decided to participate after his friend sent him an e-mail about the contest as a joke. Anything that draws attention to apes, he said, has his support.

"A lot of people think humans are above other animals," he told The Press. "When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds us that we're not that special."

Mark Ainsworth, 21, heard about the Human Zoo on the news.

"I've lived in this country for nine years and have never come to a zoo," said Ainsworth. "This exhibit made us come to the zoo. Humans are animals too!"

Like the rest of their caged neighbors, the humans had a variety of toys to keep them entertained board games, music, paints, and balls.

They are being treated as animals, complete with keepers, but are allowed to go home each night at closing time.

When visitor Peter Bohn, 42, saw the "animals" juggling, he stopped and had a good laugh.

"It's hilarious," he said. "It turns everything upside down. It makes you think about the humans in relation to the animals."

After three hours, Mahoney is still having fun except for when the wind picks up. But, he added, "I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it."

Human interest at London Zoo

London Zoo has unveiled a new exhibition - eight humans prowling around wearing little more than fig leaves.

The 'Human Zoo' is intended to show the basic nature of human beings, over the bank holiday weekend.

"We have set up this exhibit to highlight the spread of man as a plague species and to communicate the importance of man's place in the planet's ecosystem," a London Zoo spokesman said.

The scantily-clad volunteers will be kept amused with games and music.

"I actually think the fig leaves will be enough to cover us up, it's no worse than a swimming pool," said volunteer Simon Spiro, 19, from New Malden, Surrey.

Spiro, selected from dozens of hopefuls in an Internet competition, said he was excited by the prospect of monkeying around on the zoo's Bear Mountain.

"I'm a veterinary student so the idea of working for a zoo was something that appealed to me.

"I'm not worried by the fact it might be cold and rainy. I've brought pocket Scrabble in case we're bored."