It’s a sad, sad world when we have to imprison animals to ensure their survival on the planet!
I recently spent a morning at a local zoo that is soon to be relocated due to a housing estate developer’s successful bid for the land that the zoo has occupied for a very long time.
The mission statement of this zoo reads:
“To create a unique and exciting experience in a natural environment that will empower the community to be involved in conservation of wildlife and their environment.”
This is a far cry from the zoos I grew up with in Africa where animals were kept purely for the entertainment and enjoyment of the public, and often in cramped and less than ideal conditions due to a lack of funding.
|Young Male Lion|
Human interest in keeping animals for entertainment and pleasure dates back to around 1500BC when Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt built a zoo. From that time, rulers in India, Africa and China created zoos as a way to demonstrate their wealth and power.
The Greeks were the first to establish zoos to study animal behavior and to attempt to educate the public, with Aristotle being one of the most notable teachers at that time.
Although much thought today has gone into creating zoo environments that are closer to natural habitats, most of the animals in modern zoos still reside in cages or small man-made exhibits with no freedom to live the life for which they were conceived.
Almost all of the animals I photographed on this particular morning last week were in good physical health and extremely well cared for. However the majority seemed sad and somewhat depressed, either lying in a corner of their exhibits or wandering aimlessly in well-worn circles around the rusting iron boundaries of their enclosures.
|Male Cotton-top Tamarin Monkey|
The primates were the saddest of all to watch with their intelligent human-like expressions and mannerisms. Of all the animals, they know that they are captive ...
|Hamadrayas Baboons - Female and Child|
Whole families seemed to be in limbo, just waiting around for something, anything to happen ...
|Male Hamadrayas Baboon|
One of the primates I observed for a long while, a large male Hamadrayas Baboon, kept moving at regularly spaced intervals from his seat on a ledge in the centre of the enclosure to the iron bars at the locked Keeper’s Access door. Every time he reached the bars, he would take hold of them and shake them, seemingly to check if there was just the slightest possibility that they would open …
|Black-handed Spider Monkey|
Another primate, a long-limbed Black Handed Spider Monkey, sat stone still at the edge of his cage for the entire time I stood there, with his chin resting on his hand and his bright eyes staring out into the distance with an expression of such intense longing.
|Black-handed Spider Monkey|
Yet another young Spider Monkey sat wedged into the corner of his enclosure, brooding like a depressed teenager.
|Baby Hamadrayas Baboon|
… And an adorable baby Hamadrayas Baboon made eye contact with me and then stared unblinkingly at me through the bars with the most convincing “please take me out of here” look in his eyes!
|Malayan Sun Bear|
Further along, right at the back of the zoo, the lonely Malayan Sun Bear paced backwards and forwards in his walled enclosure, seemingly on an endless quest to find a mate … or perhaps just searching for a remedy for his unending loneliness.
The Tasmanian Devils were noticeably irritable and raced around and around their cramped space, often in opposite directions, passing one another in the middle.
Out of all the zoo’s inhabitants that I observed, the cute and cuddly Red Pandas and the lazy Koalas seemed to be the most relaxed. The Red Pandas remained stretched out on their hammock strung between two tall trees in their enclosure – napping, and only waking up every now and again to turn over and yawn widely.
The Koalas were nestled comfortably into the elbows of the various Gum trees, all fast asleep for most of the few hours that I wondered around the zoo.
I realise that zoos are a necessary part of the conservation and protection of endangered animals all over the world and that zoos do much to assist in the education of the public about the plight of endangered animals.
|Cotton-top Tamarin & baby|
And although there are many problems with attempting to conserve endangered species in this way, not the least of which are inbreeding and an inability of the captive-bred animals to survive if placed back into their natural habitats, at least someone is doing something to ensure that these animals have the chance to live on into the future.
Still, I cannot help but to feel sorry for the inhabitants of zoos all over the world, forced to reside so far away from their natural habitats and species, surrounded by artificiality, plagued by boredom, loneliness and staring visitors, and with absolutely no hope of freedom.
A sign above the gates of the 16th Century public zoo belonging to the Emperor, Akbar the Great, said:
Meet Your Brothers
Take Them To Your Hearts,
And Respect Them.