I went to the local zoo with my daughter and some family members a few days ago. It’s the same place we’ve been frequenting for years, and not much changes from one visit to the next, or so it seems to my rather distracted eye. I think I may be as guilty as the next person in not giving the zoo a second thought until, for whatever reason, a kid related activity, like a birthday party, results in thoughts of going to look at animals in enclosures while eating pizza and cake and drinking soda. Maybe that’s why the place doesn’t seem to change much. Lack of dollars results in lack of change. Lions eat a lot of raw meat.
On this particular visit, I admit that I did see a bunch of new lumber coming in, many areas that were roped off for expansion projects, and a man, promising big changes coming soon, was even part of the backdrop. He seemed excited, and I wanted to be excited too. But our particular zoo is hemmed in solidly on all four sides, with little room for any kind of growth that would feel like real change. For instance, on the backside, there is an RV park, with units backed in a foot and a half from the pen where they keep two young giraffes. My brother-in-law mused as to whether the campers had to pay extra for those spots. They could literally crawl up on top of their rigs and have a bird’s eye view of their necky neighbors for free.
Amusing, I suppose, but a little sad at the same time. Those giraffes are never going to know what it’s like to run at breakneck speed across a savannah. Two or three long strides here and it would be time to hit the brakes. That’s why I have mixed views on zoos. They may be the only places my dear daughter may ever get a chance to see some of these animals. And because a zoo is, well…a zoo, some of it takes a bit of blind eye turning to avoid the bittersweet tragedy of it all. Like seeing the lone bear doing an eternal dance in his bare dirt space, back and forth, each paw placed habitually in the exact same worn away spot, maybe several hundred times a day if the pace I witnessed was any indication of his daily routine.
I suppose the most difficult part of a trip to the zoo is the sight of so many placards. Placed everywhere, and a part of virtually every animal display, they are dim and dismal reminders of how imperiled our natural world truly is. You won’t read anything anywhere that says “Plentiful and Thriving,” or “Abundant and Happily Multiplying,” or “Copious and Copulating Capriciously.” No no…not in the zoo. You will see, however, over and over again, words like “threatened,” “endangered,” or “on the verge of extinction.”
It angers me that my sweet daughter’s favorite big cat, the magnificent Cheetah, is down to just over 5000 animals in the wild. That’s nothing. That’s a few ticks away from extinction. This number should be alarming to all of Humanity. It’s heartbreaking. It’s pitiful. It’s unforgiveable. It saddens me beyond words. But it’s the truth, and I doubt those numbers are going to climb north. No, it’s been a steady race to the bottom for the last forty plus years.
The animals are shot by herdsmen. The cubs are sold as pets. The very prey they rely on is even diminished to such small numbers in some cases that the cat’s next meal is becoming more of a question all the time, as well. The pelts are sold for their beauty.
A pelt on a wall or a floor is more beautiful than the animal itself? Streaking across the landscape as the world’s fastest of the fast? How? How could the dry, desiccated, lifeless skin mean more to anyone than the beautiful thing stretching its lovely, lanky body in a full out sprint for dinner?
There was this moment, however, that makes me second guess any conclusions I might draw about my “local zoo,” right, wrong, or indifferent. The giraffes, a boy and a girl, three years old (according to the lettuce distribution lady), were coming in close for their midday snacks. The same lady said they were about fifteen feet tall and could grow several more beyond that. The girl, the one with the beautiful long eyelashes, the remarkably sweet face, the long purple tongue she could use to clean out her own nostrils (how endearing), cast a shadow above me to let me know she was waiting.
I held out her lettuce and she leaned down slowly, gently, carefully, gingerly taking the offering from my outstretched hand. I looked at her intently, feeling her amazing presence just inches away from me. I felt lucky, honored, touched. The moment was so special and I got a hitch in my throat. I’m feeling one now as I write, since I know how deep the trouble runs for giraffes in the wild too.
I wonder what it takes for a species to hang its head down in humility. No, not the hungry giraffe…us. We should all weep for what we are throwing away. An ashtray made from a gorilla’s hand, and the gorilla is soon lost forever. Rhino tusks snorted like cocaine at parties for the rich and elite, and now the rhino disappears into the past. A pelt of a gorgeous, one-in-a-million cat slung up on a wall, and then the Cheetah runs away into the dust, and the dust is gone forever.
I don’t think my lovely little daughter will ever hear the news that her Cheetahs are happy and thriving. Which of your child’s favorite wild animals are losing precious ground, too? I grieve for them all.
Sincere thanks for stopping by!