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Franklin Park Zoo showcases activism and artistry

Matias De Hoyos (left) and Myra Choo performed near the gorilla exhibit at Franklin Park Zoo.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A gorilla ambled up to the thick glass wall of its habitat at Franklin Park Zoo on Saturday afternoon and looked quizzically at the guitarist, violinist, and music stand on the other side.

The violinist caught the primate peering at the stand and lifted the sheet music close to the glass, encouraging the animal to look more closely. The simian examined the page briefly, then meandered a few feet to check out several small boys crowding the glass for a closer look.

If the zoo’s residents weren’t always impressed with what they saw or heard Saturday, it wasn’t due to a lack of human effort.


All around the leafy campus, musicians serenaded audiences feathered and hooved, while animal advocates educated visitors about creatures exploited for their ivory, fur, and skins, and how their fates can affect the planet’s other inhabitants.

At the giraffe entrance, Cynthia Mead and Elizabeth Magner collected ivory products for the zoo’s “Toss the Tusk” initiative, which seeks to take ivory off the market, educate the public about elephant poaching, and promote legislation that would outlaw most sales of ivory or rhinoceros horn in Massachusetts.

“We’re running out of time to do some serious work to try to protect and save elephants from extinction,” said Mead, executive vice president for external affairs at Zoo New England.

Magner, animal advocacy specialist for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said poaching could have calamitous effects.

“We’re looking at the extinction of a subspecies of elephant that is critical to promoting forest growth, which is critical to fighting climate change, within a decade,” she said.

By early afternoon, they had collected a set of 302 antique ivory mah-jongg tiles and a brooch.

Inside the zoo, 4-year-old Cecilia Springer eyed a roll of spotted fur and said, “That’s from a leopard.”


A worker gently corrected, “That is a very good guess, but it’s from a smaller cat with spots, called an ocelot.”

The table between them was strewn with artifacts and reproductions representing the trade in exotic animal products: an anaconda skin, a turtle shell, a replica elephant tusk, and a bear foot.

Karen Springer, the preschooler’s mother, said she teaches her daughter to be environmentally responsible.

“We talk about how we want to take care of all the animals, so that they’re here for everyone to enjoy for a long time to come,” said Springer, 34, of Hyde Park.

In the tropical forest building, three vacationing sisters examined confiscated products including a cobra belt with the head intact, a tin of wildebeest meat, sea turtle boots, a necklace of 2-inch bear teeth, and something labeled Chinese Caterpillar Fungus Fur-seal Pills.

“It’s crazy that apparently the US is the worst offender of consuming illegal products, like animal tusks and ivory,” said Sarah Charrette, 36, of Detroit, reflecting on information from the exhibit.

Her sister, Jessica Burger, wasn’t surprised to read that statistic. “We do have, definitely, a very consumer culture,” said Burger, 41, of Lavonia, Ga. “We’re very buy-happy.”

Mary Bastuba, another sister, said she was surprised by some of the products, such as a wall hanging featuring a parrot made of macaw feathers.

“That was just not something I would necessarily think about,” said Bastuba, 34, of Detroit.

Nearby, guitarist Matias de Hoyos and violinist Myra Choo, Berklee College of Music students, were playing for the gorillas when Choo gave that curious simian a look at the score.


“He seemed really intrigued by it. . . . It was cool to see him come up here,” de Hoyos, 21, said later.

Choo said the gorillas had seemed sleepy at first, so she and de Hoyos played upbeat music.

“I realized that when . . . the frequency was higher, more gorillas looked at us. They seemed more interested,” said Choo, 16.

Alex Golden, president of The Movement, Berklee’s student-led initiative that puts musicians in the zoo and elsewhere in the community, said it’s common to see animals react to changes in frequency.

“We’re providing them with stimulation that they are not normally exposed to, because when you’re living in captivity, you become familiarized and desensitized to the stimuli around you,” he said.

The performances are part of an enrichment program for the animals, said Erica Farrell, assistant curator for the zoo’s tropical forest.

“We offer them something different that will hopefully stimulate natural behaviors and natural reactions in them,” Farrell said. “That’s to keep their lives full of interesting things happening, and new things happening, to keep their minds working.”

That includes musical and video recordings — and some animals have clear preferences.

“Our older gorilla, Gigi, she particularly likes watching movies,” Farrell said. “She loves Harry Potter; that’s one of her favorites. She’s a superfan.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.