Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
A few weeks ago my daughter had a friend in town. He'd never been here so I made sure that we planned a few day trips around the area so he could see the sights. He'd never been to the zoo and seemed like he really wanted to go, so off we went.
I had mixed feelings about this. As a vegan, zoos are a BAD THING. They're right up there with honey, horseback riding, backyard chickens, and the never ending discussion about what to feed your pets. I wanted the kid to have a good time and I know that this particular zoo is known for doing its best to have reasonable habitats for the animals etc. I hadn't been for probably fifteen years so I decided what the heck – we'll do the zoo.
I still have mixed feelings. I've come to the conclusion that it seems to some degree to be an issue of what kind of animal is being housed. I'm not talking about how intelligent they are, more about the fact that some animals require a large territory to roam and don't take to captivity well. And I'm not saying that some animals are more worthy, or not worthy enough – but for me, for a variety of reasons, it was more disturbing seeing some than others. When we went to the Canadian section there were various animals, moose, bison, big horn sheep, all milling around in their large areas and they appeared to be perfectly fine. I'm not for a moment suggesting I have the faintest clue if the animals were content or not, but they were ambling around grazing and generally looking pretty calm.
The wolves, however, were an entirely different story. There were three. Two were just walking around but the third was pacing back and forth repeatedly in front of the viewing window. The entire time we were there that's all he did. His eyes looked haunted, or maybe hunted is a better word. It was disturbing and upsetting and I found it difficult to watch him. It broke my heart a little – such a beautiful wild animal and he can't run free or even walk very far.
The visit continued that way. The penguins were fine (or seemed to be), the pandas were rolling around stuffing their faces, the hippos were sleeping and then bam! We went to see the gorillas. It's not that they were or were not doing anything in particular, but have you ever looked into the eyes of a gorilla? There is intelligence, there is deep awareness and understanding, and this disturbed me greatly. Why (and obviously I'm including myself here) do we keep animals in enclosures and then pay money to go look at them? Why do we take our young children (I used to do this) and teach them that this is not only normal, but fun? It seems so wrong. It is wrong - so NOT the way things are supposed to be.
I am aware that reputable zoos do a lot of research, have breeding programs for endangered animals and do their part for conservation and I think this is important. I'm also aware that we can't just open up the doors and let them free.
Most importantly I think, is that things are changing. Circuses are closing down. Whales and dolphins can no longer be taken into captivity (thank goodness!). The days are gone – at least in these parts – where animals are kept in tiny cages with no room to turn around. There are, of course, other parts of the world where this is not the case – but I think awareness is growing. That awareness is happening slowly, too slowly, but things are changing. Awareness is everything and I think that social media has played a huge part in that and will continue to do so
I enjoyed taking two teenagers out for the day, and I enjoyed seeing my daughter's friend enjoy an experience he hadn't had before – but I felt, and feel very conflicted – guilty almost. That was my last visit to the zoo – any zoo. I'm good with that. I'm glad that it bothered me and I'm grateful that it made me think, and it made my daughter think too, for which I'm doubly grateful. Knowledge is power and sometimes (often) you have to look into the eyes of that gorilla or that wolf and see and feel their awareness and perhaps their sorrow to know what's really important and what kind of change you want to make.