LAST FRIDAY, WHAT COULD have been the brightest moment in the history of Hogle Zoo almost happened.
But then they caught the cheetah.At about 10 a.m., a cheetah named Imani somehow managed to climb the fence at the end of its cage, squeeze through the barbed wire at the top and emerge into the world of cotton candy, school kids and wide open spaces.
Imani was out for about 15 minutes until zookeepers located him near the giraffe house, apparently on his way to check out the new bighorn sheep exhibit, and coaxed him back into captivity without gun play.
Personally, I think the only good zoo is a closed zoo. If it were up to me, I'd turn all the animals loose and jail the zoo owners. I'd let the elephants go splash in a lake, I'd let the lions go sleep in a meadow, I'd let the giraffes duck through tall trees. I'd give every animal in every zoo a one-way ticket back to Africa and Johnnie Cochran's phone number if they wanted it. If I were Nanci Griffith, I'd write a folk song about their plight. They talk about save the whales; yeah, save the whales and put 'em in a tank . . . oh, sorry.
Back to the cheetah.
What I wouldn't have paid to watch that cheetah - only the fastest animal on earth - make it to Sunnyside Avenue, get up a good head of steam, and outrun the police - in their squad cars.
A cheetah can run 71 miles per hour, and that's without steroids or any supervision whatever by a professional sprint coach.
Put it this way. If a cheetah had been entered in the famous 200-meter final at the Atlanta Olympics, when Michael Johnson covered the distance in 19.32 seconds to set a jaw-dropping world record, the cheetah would have been at the finish line filing its nails when Johnson came across.
At full flight, a cheetah would cover the 200 meters in about six seconds.
It can go from zero to 45 mph in two seconds.
There are Ferraris that are slower.
But Imani had been in that cramped cage in the graybar hotel at the mouth of Emigration Canyon so long he didn't even make a break for it when they closed in on him, tranquilizer guns at the ready. Two strides and he'd have been in Magna, and he just stood there!
On the Channel 4 news the night of Imani's brief escape, they followed the cheetah story with one about a convict who had walked away from his work detail at Beck Street that same afternoon.
In contrast to the happy cheetah story, this story was reported in ominous tones and included a photo of a shady character who, the reporter said, was the convict now on the run.
But he only wanted the same thing as the cheetah: Freedom and good food.
On Aug. 1, a group of animal rights activists called PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) plans to protest at Hogle Zoo when the Oscar Mayer Co. stages a "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener" singing competition for kids.
The protesters don't like hot dogs because they usually come from pigs who, they contend, often live and die in a cruel manner just so companies like Oscar Mayer can sell hot dogs.
Besides that, they point out that hot dogs are usually full of more than the meatiest part of the pig, such as bones, intestines and brains - just in case your mother never told you.
I personally believe that is taking animal rights way too far, however. Treat animals too much like humans and pretty soon the IRS is going to have to audit them, too. And I enjoy a good hot dog as much as the next guy.
I believe a much better, and natural, stand is that animals should be allowed to live like animals; and if you're not going to allow that, at the very least, give the cheetahs a track.