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Baring some skin for the cause of animal rights two weeks ago, Cynthia Lieberman, a Denver resident and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals volunteer, showed up in a cage in Shreveport, Louisiana -- where the Ringling Bros. circus was about to hit town -- wearing nothing but a bikini bottom, orange-and-black tiger-stripe body paint and a sign proclaiming "Wild animals don't belong behind bars."
Apparently, the Shreveport police aren't animal lovers: When Lieberman's sign shifted and exposed her breasts, the cops arrested her on obscenity charges.
Lieberman, who also works for Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, is traveling and couldn't be reached for comment. But Kristie Phelps, a PETA organizer, believes Lieberman understood the risks. "I think Cynthia would agree that spending a couple of hours in jail is better than the treatment that the animals get," Phelps says.
Lieberman is one of several PETA volunteers who appear semi-nude to protest the circuses, Phelps explains, an action that's part of a larger campaign called "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cruelty," which features Spanish-language singer and TV actress Patricia Manterola. "We've done this demonstration in sixty cities over the last few years and only had five arrests," Phelps says. "I'm going to Kentucky to be the tiger myself in two weeks."
While being naked in public "can be rather uncomfortable," she admits, "it gives us a feeling for what it's like to be gawked at behind bars, and our discomfort is far removed from the suffering that the animals endure in the circus."
And it's not even close to the discomfort felt by some Denver residents late last month when Ocean Journey, which isn't exactly awash in cash, opened its Outback Adventure on May 26. Billed as an "interactive" exhibit and "the first exhibit of its kind," Outback Adventure occupies its own tent near the aquarium's main facility and features hundreds of Australian birds, some of which are supposed to perch on visitors' shoulders and allow people to feed them by hand -- just like in nature. The extravaganza's opening was heralded by a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Australian Outback Survivor star Alicia Calaway, the contestant with the impressive abs who was booted off the island in the eighth week.
"Plenty of free-flying birds, talking parrots, slithering reptiles and exotic foliage set the mood, while children of all ages can be seen interacting with the animals, talking with Alicia and enjoying the grand opening festival!" Ocean Journey announced in advance of the big day. (The facility didn't mention that Calaway herself has been on quite a journey since Survivor ended and had been spotted doing some slithering just a few days earlier at a New York nightclub called Scores. According to the New York Post, "The perky personal trainer jumped on stage with fellow contestant Amber Brkich to perform a bawdy bump-and-grind, although 'they didn't really show anything,' says one disappointed witness. Alicia saved her sexiest moves for the show's resident hunk, Colby Donaldson, with whom she was seen swapping spit on a couch.")
All well and good -- but isn't Ocean Journey an aquarium? The word "fish" doesn't appear in any of the publicity materials for Outback Adventure.
A few folks at the Denver Zoo think the new extravaganza is pretty fishy, though, especially since Ocean Journey, which vowed when it opened two years ago that it wouldn't take money from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (from which the zoo gets a large chunk of change) until 2004, is about to make a play for some of that cash.
"My feeling is that they need attendance and money, and animals are a huge draw," says zoo spokeswoman Angela Baier, noting that the zoo already has many of the Outback Adventure species in its own Tropical Discovery display. "They probably are trying to keep the aquarium exciting, and maybe the fish aren't enough. But I don't know that bringing in the same animals the zoo already has is going to work." Nevertheless, Baier salutes Ocean Journey for coming up with the Survivor gimmick. "We had considered tying in with Survivor and Australia and bringing in koalas or something," she says. "We chose not to, but it certainly crossed our minds."
Instead, the zoo has been hyping its own little circus: Asian elephants Hope and Amigo, who will be walking through the zoo every morning throughout the summer with their trainer, doing tricks for the crowds.
According to Phelps, PETA isn't targeting zoos and aquariums, preferring to focus on circuses because they use animals purely for "entertainment." But according to Peggy Lucas, Outback Adventure's pro-ject manager, "We're really offering a new way to experience wildlife through an intimate setting that's part entertainment, part exhibit."
Where's Cynthia Lieberman when you need her?
All wet: In soggy Chicago, residents have been wondering if winning Boeing from also-rans Denver and Dallas was such a great deal after all. "When the city won the fight to bring Boeing from rainy, dreary Seattle to Chicago, did we also agree to take their lousy weather as part of the deal?" asked the around-town columnists in Sunday's Chicago Tribune. "Seems that there's scarcely been a day without chilly rain since Boeing agreed to relocate here."
Meanwhile, back in Denver, the forecast for the forseeable future remains sunny.