I really like birds. Like a lot. Like last week I got to check off an item from my Bucket List after I got to hold an owl. It was only for maybe three minutes, but still. Awesome! I don’t think Hagrid (the bird) was too impressed with me, though. I went to the Greater Vancouver Zoo last Sunday, with my fiancé, best friend and her boyfriend. The last time I had been there, I was fifteen – still young and naive enough to enjoy all the kid-oriented animal shows, and to ignore the fences, restrictions, diseases and disruption of life the Zoo featured. I thought I would have loved it again, and even more so because I was spending the time with my very favourite people. There are so many things about how I like to spend time that the Zoo enables you to do, and with ease.
I love to walk outside. I like to be in nature, get sunburnt, or rained on, or have the wind blow leaves and dust into my face. I know nature is not always perfect or romantic, and that’s what I like about it. I also really love to bird watch. I get really excited when I see something new, like on my way down to Vancouver I saw my first Turkey Vulture (squueeee!). I like looking at the way the sun filters through the tree leaves, or how the dew rests just-so on a flower.
The Zoo has all these things – it’s outside, it’s got new animals, you can go at your own pace, but it’s missing the natural side of it. The animals, are yes, wild. But only in a sense that they aren’t people friendly. The weather is wild, and thats the only bonus for this zoo located outside of the city, where its quiet, there’s not a ton of shelter, and it has a lot of acreage to work with. The animal cages were bigger than some I’d seen at other zoos, but now that I know how far a bird travels over the course of a year, of a migration, or a day, or how far the territory of a lion stretches, I find it all a little disheartening. Birds with wings clipped so they can’t fly is almost as sad as knowing that the bird would not survive in the wild, even if it could fly, because it has been trained to live with a very structured set of rules, feeding time, space and safety.
I felt like the animals had been stripped of their wild, but had not been given anything to replace it. Then I look at my own cat, and see how she recognizes the sound of my car when I pull in the driveway, and runs out to the porch to meow “Hello” (or more likely, “Bitch get up here and feed me!”). She knows my fiancé, and loves to give him head rubs when he comes over. She cuddles up to me in the morning, and talks in purr-meows with large eyes. I feel like there is a relationship – that she’s lost her wild, but she gets a home and a friend or two this way.
The Zoo doesn’t allow for animals to build even the twisted sort of relationship that pets have with their owners. It’s not a home where they have the ability to ask for what they need, whether its companionship, cuddles, play-fights, food, treats, or have someone’s whose job it is to look out for only them. I know this a romanticized view of pet ownership, and is somewhat unfairly negative towards Zoos. I do believe that the zoo workers do recognize the needs of the animals, but I’m still unsure whether its better to only half-tame an animal, and deprive them of the ability to be truly wild; or whether to fully tame an animal, but replace the wild with relationship.
So that’s whats making me think this week. Birds, cats, lions, hippos, zoos.