Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Reluctant Ode to the Zoo

   The Zoo, a wonderfully horrible place or a horribly wonderful place that always leaves me delighted and unsettled. I can never feel completely care-free at the zoo, with the animals stirring in their cages around me. But to experience so many different animals up close is amazing. A flat picture of an elephant is not the same thing as really seeing an elephant. With his rough, creased skin and his lumbering walk. The way he swings or curls his trunk, or wiggles his floppy ears. For a while when I was younger I vowed to never go to a zoo again, not wanting to encourage animal exploitation. But time wore me down and I'm back to visiting them, lured in by curiosity, fascination and the same love of animals that use to keep me away. But I never enter the zoo without feeling ambivalent or leave the zoo without a tinge of sadness.
   Like most things, zoos can't fit neatly into a moral category. I've been to the zoo and seen the tiger nervously pacing in her cage. Even if she had never seen the wild herself, there was an inherited genetic memory that was tugging at her heart, making her anxious to be away from the world where she belonged. But most good zoos aren't just about showing off animals, they are about education and conservation. They show us that the world we live in isn't small, and that the world we live in is full of everyone, from humans to bats to bears to zebras. So even though I leave the zoo with that swell of sadness, I mostly leave filled with wonderment and admiration for animals and this place we all live.

David by a Bird

Me by Some Painted Birds

  When David and I first met, we went to a little zoo in a small town near the smaller town where we lived. It was a free zoo, known for an old baboon named Bill who everyone loved despite his reputation for throwing his poo at zoo-goers. On this first trip to a zoo together, we met an orange tabby who wandered around the zoo. He wasn't the zoo cat, but a curious neighborhood cat who had found his way into the zoo premises. The orange tabby followed us around the zoo for a while. When we got to the otter habitat, the orange cat became fascinated with the otter and the otter likewise with the cat. They looked at each other with bafflement and curiosity, stretching toward each other, trying to make out who was this fuzzy creature they were looking at. Sometimes I feel like I made this up, but David remembers the cat and the otter too, except he remembers the cat as a gray tabby. 


Laurie Duncan said...

I agree with you on this, in a perfect world we wouldn't need zoos, but this isn't a perfect world. It is a great learning experience. :)

Autumn Elixe said...

What great pics including the pic of you and David - you are both so handsome/pretty!
What about doing some ritual thanking the animals for sharing their lives with you. That might make you feel better about the difficult feelings you have about the + & -s about their lives. Maybe bring a pretty rock to leave at a less traveled part of the zoo; maybe just thank the last animal you see for sharing their zoo with you. Or, whatever you may come up with. Love the pics of all the beautiful birds and the gorilla, big green frog.

Amber said...

Laurie- Yes, it is a great learning experience!
Autumn- Thanks for the compliment. I like your idea about thanking the animals. It is a really great and beautiful idea!