The old elephant house at the Baltimore Zoo has new, two-legged inhabitants on display -- Homo sapiens in a typical human living room that is behind bars.

"We hope to inspire some measure of introspection about our role in the chain of life," said Ken Schutz, the zoo's development director. "Zoo people understand that we tend to separate ourselves from the rest of nature.

"We wanted to come up with something that is both timely and interesting," Schutz added.

There is a rotating cast of four adult actors and 20 children for the Homo sapiens exhibit.

Behind the bars, the Homo sapiens wrapped Christmas presents, read comic books, watched television, played board games -- and even teased and nagged each other.

The actors for Friday's opening day were Ellen Rhudy as the mother, Lauren Manekin, 7, and Joe Colwill, 13, as the children, and Larry Walsh as Uncle Larry.

"I've always loved the zoo," said Rhudy, although without expecting ever to be in it. Rhudy is studying theater at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

"Acting is not as easy as some people think," she said. "You just have to be comfortable being observed. You just have to divorce yourself from what's happening out there."

The display is temporary, open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Christmas. Santa Claus will be on hand to greet children.

The display will be open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. weekdays between Christmas and New Year's, when Frosty the Snowman will replace Santa Claus.

Schutz said he was not sure what the cost of the display will be but that it would come to "several thousand dollars, or roughly what it would cost us to fly in koalas for a month."