2014-06-09 Sunday Safari
Observations from a Sunday visit to the zoo…
– Most people have lost their ability to relate to other living things. Pointing, running and yelling, either in the zoo or in the wild, is not the way to approach an animal.
– Howling at the wolf exhibit and “mooing” at the bison wasn’t funny the first time someone did it, so it’s probably not going to be funny the four hundred billionth time either.
– Encouraging your children to chase and torment the Canadian geese that reside on the property isn’t helping to instill a respect for nature.
My relationship to zoos is complex. I believe they can serve a useful purpose, in terms of science and conservation. I also view the animals on display as ambassadors of their species – seeing a tiger in person is a totally different experience from seeing one in a book or a nature documentary. No matter how many times I’ve visited the tigers, lions, giraffes, rhinos, polar bears, etc, I still feel a sense of awe. Seeing these animals in person creates a connection, and makes me care about them in a way that I never could otherwise. For me, visiting a zoo is almost a spiritual experience. Witnessing firsthand the great diversity of life which has evolved on earth often causes me to ponder my own place in the universe, and my responsibility to nature.
Yet these same thoughts lead to a sense of deep sadness, because the necessity of zoos is a direct result of the way in which we’ve failed in our responsibility to the natural world. Three of the four animals pictured here are endangered, critically so in the case of the black rhino and western lowland gorilla. Furthermore, the dolphin show at the Brookfield Zoo Seven Seas exhibit is a reminder of the way zoos can sometimes exploit animals that are too intelligent to be kept in captivity. It’s a tricky balancing act for zoos – they must provide a necessary entertainment value to entice the public to visit, to generate revenue so that they can continue their research and conservation efforts. It is, as they say, a slippery slope.
Perhaps one day we’ll learn the value of all living things, and zoos will no longer be a necessity. Even then though, I’ll still have mixed emotions. I would greatly miss the opportunity to see so many beautiful and fascinating creatures up close and personal, but I would take even greater comfort in knowing that their continuing existence in the wild was ensured.