The zoo has
so many associations for people. Childhood memories. Conservation. Perhaps,
your connections are more animal specific. Gentle elephants. Proud tigers.
Long-lashed wallabies. Ambling bears. In today’s rapidly changing world, the
zoo has become more important than ever.
I spent the
day at a zoo with my animal-obsessed young son. I’ve always loved animals – I
even fulfilled a lifelong dream a few years back to visit the Serengeti – and
so, I’m more than happy to indulge his passion too. I hope it will offer him as
much joy and hope as it has always offered me. A respite from the often
cynical, frequently political, human world.
The wonders of the zoo
simplest, the zoo is a remarkable opportunity for the average person to see up
close the extraordinary. And there’s no denying it, nature truly is
extraordinary. What else could have dreamt up the vivid and unique prints of
giraffes or the blending capabilities of the chameleon? Very few will ever see
the majority of these animals in the wild. That’s not even factoring the issue
of endangered and extinct species.
Should we cage the wild?
Detractors of the zoo argue about the cruelty of caging wild beasts. It’s an argument I do understand but am pleased to see organisations like Sydney’s Taronga Zoo are constantly working hard to offer enriching environments for the animals they care for. Leftover relics of the original zoo are a reminder of what we have put animals through in the past, and it’s a sobering one. The truth is, we have reached a point where the zoo is the last bastion of hope for many species.
In its role
as both sanctuary and spectacle, the zoo has another job though. It offers a
perfect reminder of what binds us together, man and beast. It is this, perhaps,
that may offer the last chance trigger for us to act to save the gifts of the
possible to watch the close-knit gorilla family led by its silver-backed
patriarch and not recognise our own family patterns and relationships? To watch
the seals frolicking and not feel the same sense of joy that is playing in the
water? I looked in the eyes of the elephant and her calf and the tiger with her
cubs and felt the kinship of motherhood, a privilege and hope for the future
that belongs to all species of life.
As with all
things in life, there are positives and negatives to zoos. However, at their
heart, zoos are a great gift to humans and animals alike. Perhaps by reminding
us what makes us animals too, we regain the best of our humanity. Let us hope
that will continue to spur us enough to save our extraordinary natural world.