September 30, 1996 12:00 PM

IT WAS A TYPICAL MORNING FOR MALENE Botoft and Henrik Lehmann: Get up, eat breakfast, read the papers, ignore the people staring in at them.

Botoft, 27, and Lehmann, 35, who live together and are expecting a baby in January, were lately on display as prime primates at the Copenhagen Zoo, going about their lives under the eyes of zoo visitors—all to dramatize the fact that people are animals too.

“We lived here just like we live at home,” says Botoft, a newspaper secretary who published a twice-weekly column on her experience. “People put their noses against the glass and asked each other whether we were real. After the first hour, we really forgot they were there.”

Their territory had furniture (Danish modern, of course), a computer, a fax machine, a telephone and books. There was a double bed—and, no, even though this is Denmark, they didn’t have sex during visiting hours. The exhibit, which just ended a three-week run, was a big hit with thousands of visitors daily.

To help them understand the exhibit, keepers affixed a plaque to the pair’s specially built, 270-square-foot enclosure, identifying Botoft and Lehmann and showing the global range of the Homo sapiens habitat. Visitors were asked not to feed the humans.

At night, with all the people gone, Botoft and Lehmann, an acrobat and actor on the outside, did something the other animals couldn’t: They let themselves out, wandered around the zoo and got to know their neighbors—the lemurs, whose screeching kept them awake for the first few nights, the baboons and the spider monkeys. “I envy the spider monkeys,” says Lehmann. “They can swing on their ropes while I’m cooped up in here. They’re freer than I am in this little planet of the apes.”

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