“Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings.” – Evan Esar
“As you may know, some of the stereotyped behaviors exhibited by autistic children are also found in zoo animals who are raised in a barren environment.” – Temple Grandin
I get “cabin fever” if I’m stuck inside for any longer than 23 hours. So I was ready to get outside today after tending to my sick children and nursing myself back to health over the span of a week. I opted to take my son to the zoo. The irony was lost on me until I started writing this post.
I love the zoo; I just don’t like it very much. I appreciate having close up encounters with animals I’ve grown up only seeing in books or on screen, but I find myself in an ethical quandary about taking pleasure from watching animals in captivity. The animals behave differently in enclosures, appearing sullen or bored with their surroundings or limited company. And yet I’ve also experienced remarkable moments – lions tumbling feet away from me, gorillas showing threat displays to a guide dog, a mother nurturing her young. It’s all so tangible when I am there in realtime to see it all unfold.
The ugly face of the zoo is the irreverent consumer – walking for hours with a screen in front of his face, snapping pictures of everything at any cost, allowing his children to badger animals that have no option but to bear the molestation. It is this behavior that typifies, in my mind, that concept of Dominion over Nature. This isn’t conservation or stewardship; it is entertainment and yet without the tourist dollars, the zoo wouldn’t keep its doors open to the children potentially inspired to be our future biologists, ecologists, and environmental stewards.
It is easy for me to spit venom, but the truth is that I am a hypocrite along with the masses. I continue to purchase an annual membership for the zoo. I bought a betta fish (against my better judgment) from a big box pet store and kept it alive for a few months. I am profoundly affected by films like The Cove or Blackfish, but never get around to acting on my outrage. All these little things chalk up to an inequity between my philosophies about captivity and my practice. I would love to live a life more aligned with my values; I think I need to do some searching to prioritize what values are the most important to me, and to teach to my children.
What are the points of hypocrisy in your life? Are you okay with them?
- Carolyn Merchant’s ‘The Death of Nature”
- The Role of Architectural Design in Promoting the Social Objectives of Zoos