The Human Zoo

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One day, I’ll take him to India to see the real thing

This is a rarity; two blogs in a week, but I felt I needed to write about our experience at the zoo yesterday. I’m hoping that baby boy carries on napping so I can complete this rant post in one go! It’s unusual for me to blog at 4pm in the afternoon, just as it’s unusual for baby boy to sleep at 4pm in the afternoon … he must be tired from yesterday.

I should begin by laying my cards on the table; I’ve never been a huge animal rights campaigner; I’m not meticulous about checking if my make up is tested on animals [mea culpa], I fully support Fox Hunting, adore steak but despite all that, am a huge animal lover, having ridden horses and owned Labradors [and a goldfish/budgie/rabbit/guinea pig once too] When I was doing charity work in India I “adopted” a street dog I named Nero. We are all complex and hypocritical creatures; I’ve written this paragraph to snow that I didn’t have an ethical”agenda” when agreeing to a trip to the zoo.

So, the zoo. My aunt, uncle and cousin live near to Leicester, and they suggested we meet at Twycross Zoo. I remember visiting when I was a child, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I am keen to take Freddie on as many day trips as possible. I realise he won’t remember these things, but in the present moment he laughs and engages with his surroundings, so I consider this educational and worthwhile. My main idea was, a jolly family day out and watching Freddie’s responses to the animals. I hadn’t particularly considered the “ethics” of keeping wild beautiful animals in pens. We live quite close to the West Midlands Safari Park, and I’ve always enjoyed visiting [not so much the “ride operator” jobs as a student] – aside from the petrol fumes from the cars, it seems quite pleasant for the animals, roaming around in rural Worcestershire.

Twycross was another matter altogether; from the moment we entered the general appearance was that of a run down, shabby place. Before we even reached the animals we commented on the weeds on the pathways, the lack of smiling staff or music. There was zero atmosphere. I realise this is a zoo and not Disneyland, but hey – their admission prices aren’t cheap! That aside, I was horrified at the sizes of the animal pens, and the misery we witnessed. Perhaps as a child I didn’t notice these things, perhaps had the exterior conditions been more cheerful I could’ve persuaded myself that the animals were too. As I lay down to sleep last night I kept seeing the sad elephant stood alone in a small field pawing the ground repetitively … the lethargic hyena, the bored chimpanzees. And I was GLAD that Freddie wouldn’t remember this visit, because I promised myself it would be the last time I’d take my boy to a zoo. One day if he’s reading this, I hope he understands why …. I don’t want him to associate wild animals with cages, performing for our pleasure.

I won’t go into the dirty baby change facilities or overpriced food and drink … one would hope the money was being spent on those animals – but I think it would be better spent rehoming them. We read in the press stories of the poor Orca kept in a goldfish bowl tank in Argentina, or lions in shoe boxed cages in Russia ….. but these poor animals are very close to home. We are rightly outraged when a dentist pays thousands to kill a lion in Africa, yet we pay money to support this imprisonment.

I studied Biological Anthropology as part of my degree in Archaeology & Anthropology. We covered primates and evolution, and the development of “musuems” – or objects of curiosity. It struck me yesterday as I watched some precocious toddler banging on the glass looking at a despairing chimpanzee, that zoos are beyond dated. Circuses used to be popular attractions with animals paraded indeed as “objects of curiosity” – these were the days before cheap and accessible travel, before the internet where one can view videos and find information on animals in their natural habitats …. No circuses I know of now use live animals. I can’t help but feel zoos too are now redundant, cruel – pandering to our arrogance.

Yes. I am aware I should probably have considered this before ….. but I really needed to get my awakening down on metaphorical paper. A confession of sorts. My name’s Verity, I took my son to a zoo yesterday and I won’t do it again.

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2 thoughts on “The Human Zoo

  1. I’ve been to Twycross five years back. It was better then perhaps? I found it peaceful and the enclosures (where they weren’t roaming free) quite large. Enclosures are a bad thing in general and they come with a zoo or safari park. Humans could never cope with it, and I am surprised that we think higher level primates are likely to enjoy it any much more than us. However the animals at Twycross seemed happy enough. The food was reasonably priced against other zoos and parks etc but I always bring a picnic and get the odd few things. I can see it would be a shock to a someone hoping to feed themselves or especially a few people a meal there. But the same thing goes for Greenwood Forest Park or Portmeirion.

    Overall I found Twycross ok. A lot of the problems listed above seem to go together with daytrips in general. I really like Conwy Mountain Zoo, which had penguins and sea lions (that weren’t forced to do a show) and parrots that flew free and come back in their own time after their show. Penguin feeding with the penguins coming across the lawn to get their feed was very sweet. Also the enclosures were massive and the chimps lived like a family together with a lot of time spent interacting with their human keepers and anthropological proclivities considered. That said it was still a zoo and zoos are zoos. For the love of God don’t go to Chester or Bristol if you are tender of heart, these places are by no means as cute as Conwy.

    I would like to also point out that zoos play a vital part of conservation. The Black Rhino only survives in captivity. You will have to decide for yourself if it is right, or practical to keep an animal prisoner and its childrens childrens children only hoping to release to the wild some sunny day. Watching and reading Wayward Pines one would have toconclude it isn’t so much fun for the animal.

    Cute though. Try Conwy some time when you have recovered.

    In other news I went to Sygun Copper Mine on Thursday. Now that was inspiring, humbling and unforgettable. But I’m a history fan.

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  2. There are a couple animal circuses that tour the U.S. and Canada… every show they do in Ontario is met with protesters, and when I lived in the area I went to two years of protesting. Horses, dogs, elephants (who were kidnapped from the wild and have been performing for over twenty years) and they used to use tigers until they weren’t allowed across the border with them. The owners of animal circuses are such assholes, and there are too many people who are happy to take their kids because “it’s tradition” and “the animals are happy” (they aren’t). I’m totally against zoos and aquariums, we have one awful aquarium in Ontario too… it’s so frustrating that we can’t shut them all down. And I really do love animals and want to respect and not exploit them, so I’m vegan 🙂

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