The last time I went to a zoo it was in London in 2008 and I remember having a profoundly guilty feeling. Every animal looked like they were waiting for something more. The Silverback and I locked eyes for a long 60 seconds. He did not move for the entire 20 minutes I was there. I kept waiting for him to look away, lock eyes with someone else. I knew it was physically impossible for him to reach the glass windows to smash through—but I also knew that if he could, he would.
All the other monkeys could not stay still, swinging from vines and hanging from trees all around him. It was a circus, but he was a terrifying, still, statue in the centre of an enclosure that was grander than any I had ever seen. His stare sent chills down my spine, as my empathic powers felt him saying “This is not right and you know it.” In that unforgettable moment, I swore off zoos forever and turned to National Geographic instead.
I owe it to you to make it clear that although I am passionate about animal compassion, I am the first to run in the opposite direction when an unwelcome animal makes its presence known. I have had what I call near death experiences with most backyard species.
That being said, I will not knowingly mistreat or hurt another creature—unless it’s a roach. Sorry, but I will never be Buddha material.
But when you put a lion into a concrete enclosure that is less than one per cent of the size of the area in which he is naturally meant to roam freely, it cannot be right, nor can there be an argument to make it okay.
When you ship a giraffe across the seas to keep it encaged in a country of which it is not a native species, and when you “rescue” an adult snake from its natural habitat (a swamp) and it dies in captivity, it cannot be right. Nor can there be an argument to make it okay.
If we need animals to be within our reach for the purposes of education and knowledge, then we owe respect to our subjects, at the very least by giving them a home they deserve. No enclosure at our local zoo says respect, home or sanctuary. As far as I remember, they all say ‘jail’, ‘enclosure’, ‘confined’ and ‘unhappy’.
So I ask that the next time you chose to spend money to visit these innocent captives, take a list with you. Be honest and let this be your reference when you decide to tell another about your visit and the whole grand zoo experience.
Questions to ask yourself before you visit the zoo:
- What do you expect to see? What do you imagine the animals will be doing?
- Are these animals deserving of love and kindness?
- Do animals suffer less than humans?
Questions to ask yourself while at the zoo:
- Do animals miss their real homes? Do they want to be here?
- How exactly did they get a giraffe here?
- Does a giant cat like living within concrete?
- Do all the animals look healthy and happy?
- Is the space adequate for each animal to roam, sprawl out or be comfortable?
- Are the animals feeling hot? Do they have water? Is there shade?
- Is it clean? Does it smell? It shouldn’t if the zookeepers are doing their job.
Questions to ask yourself after your visit to the zoo:
- Did I feel joy today viewing each animal?
- Did I see happiness in their eyes?
- Is this something I needed to experience or something that I wanted to experience?
- Did I feel safe?
- Do the animals feel safe?
Then try thinking of things from any animal’s point of view. Put yourself in their paws or fins and think like them:
- I am committed to an artificial environment.
- People are gawking at me.
- Those camera flashes are bright and disturbing.
- I am deprived of everything that is natural and important to me.
- I have Zoochosis – which is why I am rocking back and forth uncontrollably.
- I take a mix of drugs and antibiotics to keep me “healthy” in here.
- I would risk my life for freedom when given the opportunity.
I believe that we each have an individual power to make a difference. Sanctuaries and safaris are way more animal friendly. They offer enclosures that are more suitable and definitely respect the animals’ needs by catering to their natural instincts. Overall, it is a more pleasant, peaceful experience and I promise you the difference will be in the sheer level of joy you will feel after visiting the same animals when they are happier. So skip the zoo and “be the person your dog thinks you are.” ~J.W. Stephens
Here are some local resources and alternatives that are full of joy, education and fun:
Turtle Watching: Allow turtles to be able to come in and lay undisturbed, and help hatchlings at least make it to the sea alive. Turtle Village Trust
Hummingbird Watching: Yerette Home of the Hummingbird
Bird Watching: Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge
Mayaro Drive: Buffalo
Toco Drive: Cows, donkeys
Tobago: Goats, sheep, hummingbirds
Caroni Swamp: Fish, Scarlet Ibis, Anacondas
Chaguaramas: Howler Monkeys, birds, Anacondas
Lady Chancellor Hill: Parrots
Down the Islands (DDI): Porpoises, fish, monkeys, turtles
San Antonio Green Market: Chickens, geese, guinea gowls, horses, hummingbirds
My Backyard: Iguanas, agoutis, manicous, squirrels, hummingbirds, parrots, bats, lizards, snakes, flying frogs, caterpillars, crazy multicoloured giant beetles.
Any other non-zoo suggestions? Please share with us.