August 22, 2013


Isn't it strange how as you grow older (not necessarily wiser) your perceptions about pretty much everything change?

Take zoos for example. In the past, I have quite liked them. And aquariums, I liked aquariums too. But yesterday, I spent half the day roaming around Philadelphia Zoo, and I realized that I have come to quite-detest the enforced incarceration that zoos represent. Because if you come to think about it, what are they really, except for beautifully decorated jail cells. With fake lighting, and fake-real trees, and fake waterfalls.

Say's a volunteer to me outside the giraffe enclosure, 'people complain that the giraffes don't have a large space to run around, but you see - where would they run to? They get all their food here, there are toys for them to play with and they live a lot longer because they get excellent medical care'.

That may be true.

But tell me, how would you like it if you were clapped up in a nicely decorated prison and informed that you should be grateful because your cage has entertainment and food and everything-you-could-possibly-need within a 10x10 space. You (and I) complain about the arranged-marriage-phenomenon, these animals get even less of a choice, their mate is selected based upon superior pedigree and gifted to them by their keeper.

I spent a lot of time walking around America's First Zoo yesterday, and something rebelled within me when I saw how different animals seemed to have adapted to their captivity. Some stayed holed up in their inner-cages, hiding beneath rock and bramble building an even deeper hole for themselves to crawl in. These, I believe represent the kind of people who decide to assimilate to the extent that they adopt the characteristics of their incarceration. Undoubtedly, they emulate that specimen of humanity whose purpose it is to reinforce all them rules. They probably get a kick out of inventing new ones on a hourly basis. Anything that reminds them that this-is-the-good-life and that the world out there is big-bad-and-scary and they are, in fact, the blessed ones, the chosen ones or whatever you may choose to call it.

Then there are the American alligator types. They sit their in that tiny pond-they-call-home, and that's pretty much all they do. They sit. And stare. You can tell that they're trying to think as little as possible. Because life is much simpler when you don't have to contemplate on questions there are no answers to anyway. These animals seem like the stoic types, they recognize that they don't have much to do, and their life is basically meaningless but they refuse to deliberate on it. Maybe they focus their attention on things they actually can look forward to - like their next meal. In the meantime they perfect the act of sleeping, and in-between, they do a little bit of people-watching.

My heart, however, resonates with the third category of animals - like the wild-cats. Behind fences, glass walls and make-believe jungle foliage they roam and explore and climb and play, all the while seemingly searching for their way out. When their eyes connect with you on the other side it seems as if they question, and wonder if you are also in some sort of cage, making their prison a microcosm of the world. They pace furiously around the boundaries of their prison hunting for an opportunity to escape and see more than they are allowed. I suspect that they are a little scared of what they might meet out there, but anything is better than the insufferable tedium of everyday-sameness that they experience inside. Their heart belongs in the wild, their soul resonates with a hunger to explore and to know more than do in this fantasy-world of would-be-pride-lands.

As you can tell. Zoos make me think. And I belatedly I discover that I like them not.

2 comments:

Shankar K. Eham said...

This is why I've refused to go to a zoo all my life.

Xeb said...

Good call! :P