"Quarters for Cats"

Kinetic Sculpture, The Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Lions watch lethargically as large tourist vehicles drive to within a few feet of them. The lions appear to be bored by these intruders. But these same lions become agitated when they see the flash of bright red cloth worn by a Masai hunter walking across a distant landscape. The Masai hunter is something that requires attention. I hope the Lion Donation Device has a similar effect on visitors to the Philadelphia Zoo. Its brilliant red color, unusual form, diverse materials, and captivating graphics project the message; “Here is something special!

Kinetic sculpture, "Quarters for Cats" by Henry Loustau


The Lion Donation Device is made of rugged steel. It is brightly painted… predominantly in red. The device is a diamond shaped “house” structure with a corrugated metal roof. The metal on the roof is decorative, but also reminiscent of the abundant use of this material throughout western Africa. Elegance and functionality co-exist. There are large glass panels on the four sides of this structure with each panel having subdued images of lions and foliage etched in the glass. The device has industrial qualities, but you also know it is unique. This object was made for this zoo.A visitor to the zoo is invited to put quarters into the device. (Smaller coins will fall aside into a special compartment. All contributions are accepted, but only quarters really work!) The quarters zigzag down a track making several turns along the way. Their progress is a noisy, mechanical journey that ends at a balancing instrument at the lower end of the track. The balancing instrument has a lion on one end and a goat on the other end. This balancing instrument represents the challenge that confronts the Laikipia Lion Project (and many other conservation projects)…how to achieve a sustainable equilibrium between Nature and the encroachments of humans. As coins are added, the instrument becomes imbalanced. When enough coins have accumulated, the instrument tips and the coins are deposited into a storage compartment. Equilibrium is restored. The dumping is accompanied by a fanfare of roaring lions. Depending upon your point of view, the roar is one of victory or defeat. In either case, the roar heralds another contribution to a noble cause!

A jagged tree grows inside the Lion Donation Device. Its angularity echoes the zigzag path of the quarter’s journey. It also suggests the elements of adversity that confront all living things…especially animals that live in the wild. The tree has small, green leaves budding from the ends of its branches. These represent new growth, the cycle of life, and ultimately, optimism.