A world-class Zoo

This week I made a trip to the Toronto Zoo with my kids. It’s been about 16 years since I was there last – which goes to show how important the zoo has been to my life. However, it occurred to me that some of my children had never been to a zoo. Not wanting to deprive them, we made the trek. It’s a long drive from home – about 2 hours – but we picked a great day. A little bit of drizzly rain kept most people home. It felt like it was just us, the animals and few cute little daycare groups. (I loved watching these kids in their matching T-shirts and caps. They obviously had been assigned “buddies” as they were all holding hands with someone. And they had little backpacks on – no doubt with lunch and sunscreen. Their delight over the animals was a treat in itself.)

Everyone wants to know – which animal is your favourite? I learned that the ostrich is the 2nd fastest land animal, after the cheetah, and that its brain is the size of its eyeball. I learned that there are small bisons that were extinct by a poacher in 1917 and are now trying to be bred in captivity and reinstalled on Native reservations. I learned that giraffes are pregnant for about 18 months. The Toronto Zoo names its animals, and makes a big deal of all of them – especially the babies.

Being at the Zoo gives me mixed feelings – which I remember from 16 years ago, and which I saw reflected in my children.

On the one hand, zoos teach us about animals and how they live – they let us see them up-close so we can honour and respect their diversity. What a quick lesson in God’s amazing power (never mind Evan Almighty) – comparing animals from around the globe in one zoo trip is mind-boggling. The Zoo-keepers (oh, how many Zoo-keepers are featured in children’s alphabet books – but the lucky few children who actually grow-up to be one) were an enthusastic and educated group. They took the time to explain the particular characteristics and needs of each animal. My children suddenly clicked on the whole “no plastic grocery bags” movement, when the seal keeper explained how these plastic bags get into the oceans and destroy marine life. Also, many species which are extinct in the wild, still exist in zoos, where they are being cared for and sometimes successfully bred.

On the other hand, I hate to see animals in captivity. This becomes most profound at the gorilla and monkey exhibits – likely because they look like us. The mother ape who hid her child behind cardboard, and the others who turned their backs on us and hid in the corners. So many of the animal’s cages seem dismal and dirty. The animals themselves staying out of view or sleeping rather than moving around. Of course, I’m likely attributing all kinds of human emotions to them that animal researchers might dispute.  But as I watched human mothers hold their tiny waving children up to the glass at the gorillas, I couldn’t help but feel sorry. (Maybe its my age and the “Planet of the Apes” thing stuck in my psyche?)

Now I’m seeing that mixed feelings (see my earlier entry – Love and Hatred for Tim Horton’s) are just part of who I am.

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