I like zoos. There you are. I’ve said it.
Of course regular readers will have figured that out by now –as this isn’t the first zoo related picture to appear on this blog.
Nor was my recent visit to Melbourne Zoo a first.
Zoos can be and sometimes have been controversial. There are people who say animals shouldn’t be caged for our amusement.
I understand and agree with that – but that’s not what I see when I walk through a modern zoo.
I remember visiting a zoo for the first time when I was very small. I was so excited at the thought of seeing the animals I had read about in books and seen on TV.
I found animals in cages. Animals that could barely move around, who lay on the cold concrete or timber or steel and their blank eyes stared out through the bars like lost souls.
I know there are still places like that, but hopefully they are disappearing as zoos come to terms with what I think is their real function.
There are rare animals in the world that exist only in zoos or in reserves which have been re-populated by breeding programmes led by zoos. That’s part of what zoos are for – to protect and preserve our wonderful wildlife.
Once the animals were on displayed purely for the benefit of visitors – and were even poked and prodded (carefully) by those visitors. Now they are housed in realistic environments. There are times when the paying humans visiting the zoo don’t get to see them. That’s fine by me. There are days when we all want to hide in a dark corner and not see anyone. Everyone is entitled to those moments of privacy, even a leopard or an otter.
It would be nice if some of the environments were larger, but its good to see them filled with things to allow the animals to play and enjoy their lives. I do think there are some animals that should not be in small zoos. Elephants are one. Rhinos another. I have been fortunate enough to see both in game reserves in Africa – wandering free over huge land areas. That’s where they belong, and they are awesome when seen there. They shouldn’t be in some small enclosure surrounded by thick bars.
Free range zoos and wildlife parks are wonderful. The best of both worlds. But, as poaching statistics and the recent shooting of Cecil the lion show, reserves don’t always offer protection.
And that brings us to what I think is THE most important role of a zoo – to show people, especially kids, what wonderful creatures share this planet with us. If kids gaze wide-eyed in wonder at a tiger or a gorilla; if they look into the dark brown eyes of a zebra or watch the totally human actions of a chimpanzee… maybe the future of those animals will be a little bit brighter.
It’s a big planet and we can share. We should share with the other living creatures who do so much to enrich our lives. And I am always happy to visit a modern zoo, or an open range zoo, where I can feel confident that the animals are being treated with the respect they deserve. There is something quite wonderful and inspiring about looking deep into the eyes of a mountain lion – knowing that it can see me too.
It puts the world and my place in it into a different perspective.