Yesterday, I visited the San Diego Zoo for the first time since 1968. Wow. That's been a while. I was on a longer layover with my hubby and a good friend so we decided to really make a day of it. Did you know that Diet Cokes actually cost $5 at the Zoo? I thought it was for a six-pack, not a single drink. Silly me. But in spite of having a great sun-filled day, I left with mixed emotions. I know that being the animal activist that I've migrate toward in my old age, I should not have paid the money to visit this zoo nor any other one. I know that placing animals in captivity should not be supported. I know that paying giant amounts of money for t-shirts and sodas at the zoo is just plain old not right.
The zoo had a sign with a picture of each animals on the front of each exhibit (or listen to me...calling it an "exhibit" when it was nothing more than a cage for confinement....). The little signs were all the same. And they each rated the animals on whether they were endangered or not. Many were. In addition, I noticed heavy advertising, signs, pictures and public relations crap that were intended to tease me into thinking that the Zoo is a "green" place for animals -- that they are doing everything possible to make sure that the animals are well taken care of, tended to, needs dealt with, etc. But, as with all of these sorts of things, I immediately questioned the Zoo's intentions. I think that any business who is going out of their way to advertise to me what a good, green, earth-friendly, animal-caring place they are probably isn't such a place at all.
I stood in front of the elephant exhibit watching two elephants swaying back and forth. Each of these two were by themselves -- not with each other nor with the rest of the heard. And swaying. Back and forth. Left and right, right and left....for as long as we were there. And I said to my Zoo partners that I'll bet that the swaying is a byproduct of them being in captivity. Yes sir, it is. Check it out. In addition, I didn't see a whole lot of animal caretakers around. I did see a few. Very few. For the most part, "people" were absent from the scene -- unless it was to sell expensive food, treats, t-shirts, kettle corn and the like.
Probably the highlight of the day was at the Hippopotamus pool. Momma and 15-day-old baby! Amazing...and right straight in front of us on the opposite side of the glass. Apparently, they are not natural-born swimmers because momma was teaching the baby how to swim....herding the baby around the pool and nosing it up to the surface for air. Something like this......it was really, really something else.
I know that in many cases, the animals are actually more well off in the zoo than in their natural habitat due to poaching and other unnatural happenings. But in spite of it all, I've been thinking a lot about the fabrication of real life at the zoo. It left me a little bittersweet. For the lack of natural, free-roaming territory to enjoy. The captivity issue. The children running and yelling and creating stressful situations for the animals -- there were actually signs on many of the cages warning us to not yell or not harass the animals....that it stresses them and makes them nervous. I just felt sorry for them. There's got to be a better way to educate our children, our world, than peddling expensive novelty items in gift shops and charging $5 for ice cream and locking up animals in cages. It didn't feel natural at all.