Friday, December 14, 2012

Oz by night

Since the whackos are out shooting up the mall we decided to play it safe and spend one of our rare rainless December evenings at Zoolights.

Unsurprisingly the kiddos love this Portland Yuletide macguffin. And I have to admit that these nocturnal admissions are the better of the times I've spent with them there.

The thing is, I still can't get around zoos as animal prisons.

All the lockdown behaviors; the pacing, the self-soothing stuff like rocking and repetitive motion, the compulsive grooming...they're all there. I hate seeing these creatures slowing going mad in their miniscule "habitats".

At least tonight the only critters in evidence were the elephants, who were pacing their way-too-small prison yard as always, and the sea otter who was doing rather the same thing only underwater. The sea lions, who usually swim compulsive laps in their tiny tank, were asleep.

This stuff bugs me and I'm never sure how much to talk about it with the kiddos. I think that they would understand, and yet, they genuinely love animals and love the zoo animals in particular. I think that it would hurt their hearts if they recognized their animal friends as desperate convicts locked in stir 24/7. And yet...there they are.

The Zoolights enable us to visit with as little exposure to the convicts as possible, and the light display really is beautiful and creative. The kiddos were sweet, oohed and aahed over the pretty lights, thoroughly enjoyed an illicit late-evening french fry gorge, and even managed to be decent about the loud crowd of Blazer fans on the MAX train-ride back to the parking space.

Now everyone is tucked soundly in bed dreaming of tomorrow, the last day of school for two whole weeks.

But I'm still awake, seeing in my mind's eye the elephants relentlessly pacing in the dark; back and forth, back and forth, their heavy feet falling again and again, soundlessly taking the measure of despair in the cold damp night.


Lisa said...

Your last comment is poignant. The elephants are so thoughtful and tragic; so many of these animals cannot survive in their home terrain which has either been co-opted, or the locals lie in wait to butcher them for their tusks or horns or whatever due to their own poverty.

Many zoos are the only thing keeping some species alive via their captive breeding programs. Of course, where will we put these animals? In jail on concrete, of course.

As a child, zoos made me sad for this very reason. (Ditto circuses, which I felt as exploitation of freaks for our amusement ... such a serious little girl.) On a deeper level, one wonders how the animal's condition of imposed imprisonment correlates with our own self-imposed limitations.

FDChief said...

I don't have a good answer to this, Lisa.

Large mammals - tigers, elephants, etc. - are in trouble. They need great spaces to survive and are in direct competition with the humans who are both more prolific and better armed.

Captive breeding seems to offer a way out, but it comes with a pretty awful price; confinement in tiny space - imprisonment, in effect.

The tragedy of these large animals is that most of their range is in parts of the world where the humans nearby are exceptionally poor, and the constituency for funding and maintaining large reserves is nonexistent.

I cannot honestly see a successful solution to this dilemma.

Talyssa said...

I think this looks amazing I would love to go!

I think zoo's have both negatives and positives - they are responsible for a lot of animal rehabilitation, breeding services to help endangered species, general scientific research is also collected, and Taronga Zoo in Sydney also has 'wildlife shows' which focus on teaching kids and adults what products to buy to help conserve animals and their habitats in the wild e.g. what brands on tuna or fish products to purchase so that people don't buy from companies that use those huge fishing nets that sweep the entire ocean of all animals and so on.

I also know that Steve Irwin's zoo puts many of their funds into volunteer programs - one of them I went to was to collect data from turtles giving birth on Australian shores and watching their was so beautiful being a part of that. I think knowledge and sharing knowledge/education is a very powerful thing in solving many of the worlds problems.

However I noticed that in comparison to zoo's overseas, Australia's 'animals shows' focused more on educating and sharing knowledge combined with entertainment value, but zoo's I went to in Korea for example focused ONLY on entertainment value..yes those shows were amazing and the tricks the animals did were wayyyy more impressive than what you would see in Australia...but this difference was one which made me think.

But yes...keeping animals locked up is cruel..but people also keep pets which aren't free to roam around either...

I'm upset because I can't find a solution to these problems...haha

FDChief said...

As you can tell, Talyssa, I have something of the same problems you have.

The fact that my kiddos - and lots of kiddos - can actually get up close and SEE these wonderful animals can't help but make them want to care about and protect them and their habitats. If a zoo elephant can help make my kids want to change their lives to help protect the forests that the Asian elephant needs to survive in the wild then that elephant was been "sacrificed" in good cause...

I also understand the good that outfits like Irwin's Australia Zoo do. There's upsides to zoos and wildlife parks as well as downsides.

But it's still hard for me to watch the big mammals pace their cages. Sentimental, yes, I know, but, still...