May 3, 2009

Open but caged

Gloomy captives. Those are redundant words. Of course those in captivity are gloomy. This time I am not referring to people alone. We’d been to a wild life animal park near Paris yesterday. I was initially very excited. The whole experience promised to lend a safari feel to an otherwise ordinary day at the zoo. We were told we could drive along the premeditated trails in our cars and get a glimpse of the animals in “an artificially recreated natural habitat”. The main attractions were the lions and the bears. The others were pretty normal and the “collection” included giraffes, zebras, strange-looking African elephants and other herbivores with a sprinkling of hippos, rhinos and American bison. So we drove at snail’s pace and had the opportunity to pat zebras, ogle giraffes, have ostriches block our car and many a Grand Koudou gaze steadily at us in close quarters. The lion “habitat” took the longest to get to and once there, I felt inexplicably sad. There was a full pride of lions. Yet, they were all determinedly looking away from the crowds that were oohing and ahing and clicking away to glory less than 50 feet away. It was almost as if they didn’t want to be seen. The bears were more at ease though… maybe because of the dense trees around or because they had a very large number of their own. And once we took the walking trail within the zoo to gain access to more animals like cheetahs and tigers, I was more convinced that zoos like these weren’t working out, for the animals or for the perceptive public (they were great for kids catching their first glimpse of real animals outside the LCDs and HDTVs). Sure, they maybe safer here than in the wild where they’re likely to have been hunted down… but the second we saw a happy and playful gibbon skip into it’s enclosure to eat it’s piece of bread in solitude and away from the ogling eyes, I felt sure that these zoos weren’t necessarily doing the right things. I mean, imagine living in a glass enclosure, being fed time to time, with millions of animals/people/insects walking around you through all hours to look at you eat, sleep, or just sit and you’ll know what I mean. Even though they have just 5 senses, the more animals I saw, the more convinced I became that they hid themselves away in far corners, behind rocks, under shrubs and what not; simply to shield themselves from the millions of prying eyes, much like what we would’ve liked to do if put in a similar situation. It was sad really. And it was a testament to the animal intelligence. Seldom have I seen the animals at ease in these recreated habitats and there’s little wonder why. And that makes me wonder why I’ve ever enjoyed going to zoos. Something should be possible - maybe there should just be vastly spread animal sanctuaries/reserves rather than stand-alone zoos. As in every case, it’s easier said than done. Can something be done? PETA, anyone?


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