If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about zoos and aquaria. On the one hand, it’s an awe-inspiring experience to see the mighty, ferocious, and odd creatures that don’t make it into one’s backyard (for those who even have yards.) On the other hand, one has to wonder whether the creatures on display are as miserable as one would be in their shoes. (i.e. Figurative shoes. I do know that other animals don’t wear shoes… Except for horses… but I digress.)
In this book, Gerald Durrell examines the question of what makes for a zoo that’s good for the animals as well as for its human visitors. Most of us are sophisticated enough to realize that straight-up anthropomorphization (projecting human thought processes onto animals) isn’t a sound way to get to the bottom of an animal’s experience. Animals seem much more resilient than humans, but they aren’t infinitely tolerant. While one can’t conduct a “zoo resident satisfaction survey,” there are means by which to gain insight into the animal’s state of well-being, including: its health, its appetite, and its sex drive / reproductive success.
Durrell had the experience of opening a zoo, and was himself dismayed by what he saw at many of the zoos he visited. In some cases, they were designed for optimal viewing but didn’t give adequate consideration to the well-being of the animals. However, some zoos genuinely tried to act in the best interest of the animals, but they missed the mark by projecting human thinking onto animals–instead of examining the evidence for what conditions positively (or negatively) impact the animals’ health, appetite, and sex drive.
This short book (less than 150 pages) consists of seven chapters. The first chapter presents the challenges Durrell went through in trying to open a new and different kind of zoo. Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6, respectively, examine the issues that must be taken into account with regards to enclosures, feeding, mating, and sick animals. Obviously, these chapters don’t cover the entirety of the subject in detail, but rather combine generalities with a few interesting (and often humorous) examples from specific species. Chapter 5 gets into the challenges of keeping records in a zoo that isn’t just about entertainment but is also focused on conservation and education. The last chapter sums up Durrell’s arguments for how Zoos can be of benefit to animal species other than humans.
There are no graphics, notations, or bibliography. It’s not that kind of book, but is rather an extended essay. It does feature both humor and insight in good measure.
I’d recommend this book for those who want to better understand what features of a zoo are good (or bad) for the animals, and how zoos might be restructured to advance their roles in conservation and education.
So many questions:
1.) As it’s clearly not a real ape, why the need for the cage?
2.) Why did they anthropomorphize this particular primate? (i.e. Is it just whimsicality, or is it a statement of some sort?) [Most of the creatures are in animalistic poses–though often not to scale.]
3.) Did the chimp start off reading huge (Tolstoy / Dickens / Ayn Rand style) books, or did it have to work up to them?
Taken in November of 2013 at Mysore Zoo
Alternative Post Titles Considered:
“Kungfu is Hard Work”
“Too… Many… Steps”
There is no smile
worn by a crocodile,
that’ll induce me to pet him.
There’s no grin,
neither wide nor thin,
that extends my treasured limb.
Save your beaming.
It looks scheming.
“No, I won’t go for a swim.”
The Hippo never took an oath
to watch its weight or check its growth.
Hungry, Hungry, it is in deed.
Five hours per day it’s known to feed.
The Greeks called it the river horse.
A horse that’s not a horse, of course, [of course.]
Hippos do like rivers, though they don’t float.
Submerged below, they’ll wreck your boat.
Where else can one find two tons of fun?
But careful, don’t think them too fat to run.
They’ve been clocked at 30 miles per hour,
and there’s scarcely a thing they won’t devour.
Bannerghatta has several tigers, two of which are white tigers, that can be seen on the “safari.” It’s not a safari in the usual sense, as the cats are in fenced off containment zones and segregated from their food. One rides in buses or jeeps in through a double-fenced gate, and then through the area.
At some point it occurs to you that they are in the larger area, with greater freedom of movement, and so in some sense one is on exhibit for the animals. The vehicle even has steel mesh over the windows to make the caging experience complete. There are periodical camera portals to give one the illusion that it’s all for the humans’ entertainment.
There are several enclosures to keep lions, tigers, and bears separated.
I saw tigers looking, drinking, walking, stalking, and sniffing–but not crouching. I didn’t see a dragon, and so I must assume that it was hidden.