As a child I have enjoyed zoos a lot, but as a teenager trying to find principles in life, I decided zoos were a strict no no, because they kept animals in captivity, to be started at by human beings, and somehow the whole system seemed so not ok. It is only after reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi that I started having a different perspective on zoos. Martel’s hero Pi argues that while in the wild, animals are the the mercy of nature and have to look for their food, frequently going hungry, in zoos, they lead lives of luxury, and are well fed and well looked after. Their freedom may be compromised, but who knows if animals value freedom more than food. In any case, in a world where human beings were increasingly encroaching into animal spaces, and animals were probably finding it harder and harder to find food, zoos were probably as good a place as any for them to survive.
Anyway, I reconciled to zoos, and did it at about the right time, because Migu came into our lives, and since she is so innately fond of animals, zoo is one of the places she enjoys the most.
We have planned a lot of visits to the zoo with Migu, and each time, it is a joy to see her behold the animals, the look of wonder on her face and her earnest attempts to engage the animals in conversation. In a recent zoo visit, she was no longer interested in the caged lions and tigers, instead focusing more on the mongoose, which were not even part of the zoo population, but seemed to have wondered in because of the availability of food. There were a lot of mongoose roaming freely around, going under cages etc, and she was fixated on them, clapping to herself whenever she spotted a new one.
But these visits also made me realize how poor we humans are in terms of zoo etiquette. No matter how many signs warn people not to feed animals in zoos, people insist on sharing all kinds of food with them, some serious junk food, ruffles, kurkure and what have you. It is almost that they dont respect the animal as a living thing with needs of its own, and expect it to eat to satisfy their craving to feed food. Recently, when we found someone feeding the deer in the zoo some pop corn, we specifically told them not to do it. They waited for us to move away, and started again.
Boundaries in zoos also repeatedly get violated. People just dont get the point that if a board says dont go closer, it means that and they should not press themselves against a cage. Nor is the animal to be teased or mocked at or even called out to. How many of them would dare do any of these things if they saw the animal in the wild. We just need to be silent observers, glad to have this prievilege to watch the animal up close. So yeah, maybe my initial prejudice against zoos was right. Zoos do seem to expose animals to this kind of patronizing behavior from humans, allowing humans to feel they have power over them.
The sad part is that because most people do this, young kids may also start picking up this habit. I hope Migu never picks it up, but who is to say. We, her parents will try to model good behavior, but every other person in the zoo behaves differently. So who will she follow.
One of the our common jokes with Migu is that she is going to grow up and become a zoo keeper. Recently, when we saw her trying to violate a rule and go close to the cage, we told her that as a potential zoo keeper she ought to respect rules. I dont know what she understood, but I hope she grows up with a respect for the animals.