My latest visit to the zoo was uplifting. Most of the animals were enclosed in spaces that are supportive of their needs. Many were eating or interacting with one another, and their antics reflected a protected existence. These animals live well in this particular zoo.
The animals with large space needs, like the zebra, fox and scimitar oryx (a species related to antelope), lack space to move as they instinctively know they should. The zoo I visited cares for animals such as these, providing them with areas that are too inadequate. These animals are well cared for, but restrained in their opportunities to move breathlessly (like children at school or factory workers who do sit-down, repetitive work). The zookeepers want these animals to be content, but without more area, the animals cannot be fulfilled.
An attraction that brings people to zoos is the petting zoo with its animals-meet-unsure, pushy, enthusiastic or frightened humans. The animals in a petting zoo are always living an unnatural life. The need of humans to approach and interact with the animals and the need of the zoo to attract visitors supercede the needs of the petting zoo animals. As the Shetland pony in the book Zoo Conversations—Giving Voices to the Animals, A Play discloses about life in the petting zoo:
“Many animals [referring to humans] sit on me. Sometimes, the animals that sit on me give me food. I like when they give me food. Some of the animals that sit on me are quiet and touch me with softness. I like them.
Some of the animals that sit on me are loud and pulling. I move away from them when I can. The animals that pull are not wanted. I am slow with them because they have strength and ropes.”
“I prefer to be with my type and not with the animals that put heavy things on me and pull me.
I like to do things at my speed, fast or slow depending on how I feel. I feel different speeds when I am tired or hungry or with others.
When I am with others like me, I am as I should be. I run and I jump and I do what the others like me do. I am sure when I am with others like me.”
Protecting the animals is the goal of those who are aware of their responsibility towards Earth. Support for zoos that direct their efforts towards empathy for animals is important.
“If only we could return each animal to its natural home.
To eat and roam in freedom,
To live as designed,
With fear from natural predators,
And with contentment from natural surroundings.
But the natural surroundings are changing
Through people’s involvement.
And the natural surroundings are threatened
As are the animals’ lives.
To live enclosed is to live partially
But to live enclosed means remaining alive.
Zoos are a way of righting the wrongs.
The more we support them,
The more they can support the animals.”
If you would like to feel the life of zoo animals, Zoo Conversations fulfills your goal. In this book, Spirit used me to record contentment and strain, restlessness, and ennui of the animals in their zoo homes. Each animal that shares his or her story is speaking for other animals in the zoo.
When we know what the animals feel, we can understand the ways to make them feel fulfilled. When we know what they feel, we can treat them as we should. How rich our lives can be when we appreciate the animals!
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