True Story, Issue #2

"Trip to the Zoo" by Steven Church

True Story, Issue #2

In September 2012, twenty-five-year-old David Villalobos abruptly dived from a monorail ride into the Siberian tiger pit at the Bronx Zoo. In True Story #2, Steven Church retraces (some of) Villalobos’s steps in an attempt to understand the impulse that drives him—and others like him—to get close to a predator.

From "Trip to the Zoo" by Steven Church

The tiger habitat at the Bronx Zoo is shaped like a short, fat football, and the chain-link fence along the back side of it, at the top of the hill, forms a boundary with the exotic cattle and deer habitats. I imagine this must be, for the tigers, like staring outside your prison bars to see not just freedom but also a buffet of all the food you could possibly eat, with a train that appears regularly, like a line of sushi boats floating just out of reach.

David Villalobos didn’t care about the Formosan deer or the hog deer or the wild horses with their short, bristly manes. He positioned himself in the very last car and waited for the ride to go past the jungle pig and Cali the rhino and the wood-pike fence. He waited until the car was creeping along the top of the tiger enclosure. He’d planned this. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had to have taken the ride a few times, gauging the distance, timing the tour and the movement of the tram. I imagine the zoo employees had come to know him, to recognize his face in line. Maybe they’d started to wonder why he came so often.

Villalobos knew what was about to happen: the guide slowed the cars, trying to spot the tiger in the brush and then pointing him out to the other visitors. Villalobos waited for his cue, for the opportunity. The ecstatic moment. As his car pulled up alongside the exhibit, Villalobos suddenly stood up. He climbed up on the edge of the car, reaching up and bracing himself against the roof with his palms. He paused briefly on the railing, rolling on the balls of his feet to get his balance right. Then he leaped, clearing three strands of barbed wire, sixteen feet down into the tiger’s cage. ...