Thursday, May 27, 2010
Today my class at school visited the Stuttgart Zoo downtown. The rain held back most of the day and the clouds made for a cool and comfortable day as we made our rounds to the various animals the zoo has to offer. I will say the gardens throughout the zoo were beautiful and I could see returning in the summertime to enjoy them in sunnier weather, but it was hard not to feel a little sad for the animals.
It isn't that the grounds weren't well-kept, or that the animals appeared malnourished or abused; quite the contrary. The monkeys swung and played, the lizards ogled the kids, and the tigers and pygmy hippopotamus snoozed, but it was the pacing that got to me. Having walked by the leopard cage without a sighting, the kids and I took a stroll through the viewing rooms that run behind the length of several cages, giving a glimpse into the holding spaces for the animals. The series of caverns rooms were empty, one after another, until finally we came upon that which sits behind the leopard's outer habitat. The cat was amazing and beautiful, but she paced back and forth the twelve feet or so of length available to her in her tiny, glassed-in cage. The girls squealed and wowed at the sight of her, and I, too, appreciated her, but it broke my heart how she paced. Walking and walking with nowhere to go. I couldn't tell why they had her blocked from the outer area of her cage; I hadn't seen anyone cleaning. At one point she growled a series of ground and cage-rumbling complaints, startling us all. It made it even worse, because it truly seemed like a plea and I just wanted to find a way to send her back to her homeland.
And it wasn't just her. The polar bears and the enormous brown bear paced, as well, walking the same path along the water before the semi-entertained spectators over and over in some kind of broken daze.
The only thing that usually makes me feel any better about viewing captive wild animals is if their being in the zoo is what's keeping them alive. Many zoos get their inhabitants through ways of rescue, and that, I can appreciate much more than those which pluck these gorgeous, wild creatures from their rightful places in the world so we can look at them safely. It isn't that I don't have an appreciation for education and exposing our kids to the amazing and exotic beasts of the world, but forcing them to live out their days in small, synthetic patches of jungle or Antarctic beach seems cruel. Now I'm not the type to run around throwing red paint on women wearing fur coats (though I don't agree with fur), and I'm no vegetarian, but nonetheless, it's difficult to ignore the fact that a cage is a cage, and I don't know anyone who'd enjoy living in one.
As we walked from cage to cage, peering through bars and over walls into the pits which kept the animals at a safe distance, I often wondered what they think of us. Here are these strange, furless, bipeds walking by in lines and clusters, staring and pointing at them as they go about their days. I wonder if they think us rude. Wouldn't it be nice, especially for the ones who have known no other life than this, if they saw us as some sort of traveling and ever-changing zoo of faces and sounds, brought in daily to break up the monotony and amuse them. What a lovely, reciprocating relationship that would be. I'd still feel better and would be better able to enjoy the wonder of the zoo if every animal were a rescue or attempt to propagate the species, and maybe we'll get there. But for now, it is what it is and at least everyone's reasonably safe, if not free.
Sorry for the downer...at least the insect habitats were spacious!