Man and lion in tug of war at Houston Zoo

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Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 5, 2006, 2:03PM

In this corner, weighing 275 pounds, the undefeated and undisputed tug of war champion of the Houston Zoo … Lindy the Lion.
And in the other corner … me.

The Houston Zoo invited me to compete with Lindy in tug of war to show off its lion enrichment program. Tug of war is one of many games the lions play with their trainers. It helps keep the lions’ minds active and alert.

Otherwise they’d just lie around, eating candy and watching TV in their bathrobes.

No, wait, that’s me.

Each day, a trainer or lucky visitor gets to grab one end of a thick rope, the kind you use to dock a boat, and battle the lion in tug of war.

The lion never loses. Not ever.

Lions have pride, you know.

There was a small crowd at the lion exhibit to watch Lindy and me face off. It wasn’t a real confidence-booster when I heard one woman say to a friend, “I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.”

Lindy sat in her lair, behind a steel chain-link fence. I was in the people part. Lindy grabbed the rope with her mouth and held it in place with her paw.

I grabbed the other end with my hands. No mouth. I don’t know where that rope’s been.

Here are the rules: If I pull the rope out of Lindy’s mouth, I win.

If she pulls me through the chain-link fence like strained soup, I guess she wins. And some of me goes to Ben Taub Hospital, some of me goes to St. Luke’s and the rest goes to Methodist.

We were looking eyeball to eyeball, just a few feet apart, with only a fence separating us. I felt like I was visiting a prisoner.

Lindy gave the rope a tug and nearly knocked me down. It was nice to hear people laugh at me being dragged like tin cans on the back of the newlyweds’ car.

I was the underdog to a cat.

I struggled back to my feet and started pulling. Under the right circumstances, I can be freakishly strong.

Who am I kidding? I can barely push a shopping cart around Sam’s Club. But maybe I can outsmart Lindy.

I relaxed my grip and let the rope dangle for a few seconds. I turned to say something to Rick Barongi, the Houston Zoo director, who was standing behind me.

Lindy must have seen me look away. I felt her relax her grip, too.

That’s when I gave the rope one mighty yank for all I was worth. The rope popped out of Lindy’s mouth. The zoo director and I went spilling backward. I conked my head on a rail and rolled about five feet.

I won! I beat Lindy the Lion in tug of war!

I am the new king of the jungle!

Hakuna matata, baby. No worries.

Houston Zoo staffers were stunned. So was I. So was Barongi. Nobody ever beat Lindy before.

“Sorry I didn’t catch you. I didn’t think you would be coming back in my direction,” Barongi said.

Now I’m worried that Lindy is suffering from lion low self-esteem. Some champions don’t handle losing very well and can’t accept mortality. Mike Tyson was never the same after Buster Douglas knocked him out.

On my way out, I passed the elephant exhibit and saw Shanti, the 8,000-pound proud mama elephant.

I thought I noticed Shanti giving me a dirty look.

I said, “Hey, big nose, you want a piece of me? Ask Lindy what just happened.”

Listen to Ken Hoffman on The Pat Gray Show, 8 a.m. Wednesdays, on KPRC Radio (950 AM)


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