Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Animals in captivity

I've always been a keen visitor of zoos ever since I was little when my parents would take me once a year. We would go to the Melbourne Zoo and my favourite animals then are actually two of my favourites now: the otters and hippopotamus. I'm not sure why the hippo. They look so round and content I guess. The otters, like the meerkats are enchanting to watch when they are active.

The recent new stories regarding animal mistreatment at Melbourne Zoo sadden me. I won't go into it here. Google it and see what I'm on about.

Despite my appreciation for the lovely new Asian elephant enclosure I was not happy that they chose to import more elephants. It does nothing for the species and I doubt it improved the welfare of the existing occupants despite the social/breeding arguements put forth by the zoo.

A few year agos on the ABC TV series 'Zoos Company' a chap from the zoo, possibly the director, said if he had his way he wouldn't have any megafauna (big animals like lions, elephants, giraffe etc) but lots of little creatures better suited to captivity like meerkats, otters, frogs, lizards, fish, insects, birds etc. He pointed out that the public wouldn't be content with this, complaining about all the little 'rats' (his word) on display and wonder where the megafauna are. In a nutshell; we get the zoo we want. Maybe this isn't what you personally want but it is what the masses want. I would love a zoo full of little critters!

Melbourne Zoo has built some fine, habitat mimicking enclosures in the last 10 years, allowing the animals to do what comes naturally and for us to see them doing that. It cost a lot of money some of which was raised by the public. Unfortunately the government has cut back on funding from last year. There are still quite a few animals living in unstimulating environments. I hope they realise that adding more megafauna to a suburban zoo is not the way to go. The space is too small and they are more expensive to keep. Far better to have it at Werribee Open Range zoo instead.

In the meantime I am postponing my day-long life sketching trip to Melbourne Zoo indefinitely.

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I've only been to one zoo where there were peanuts. I was in Rome back in 1997 and went against my guidebook's recommendations (said it was depressing) and visited the zoo there. Don't visit it unless you want to be depressed, it IS the saddest zoo I've ever visited (maybe I'm sheltered...). People were throwing peanuts at a bear in a cage not much bigger than my bedroom. Most of the enclosures were bare earth or concrete with perhaps some straw.

I met the gaze of a lonely, caged gorilla and saw a sadness in its eyes I will never forget.

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