Saturday, August 3, 2013

On the two sides of the Glass

Minnesota Zoo (July 29, 2013)

No, I wasn't going to be eaten. This big guy here was behind a thick glass. The plumes of steam emerging from the ground were not actual geysers from the siberian pacific coast. What the heck, we all were at the Minnesota Zoo. Well, I always had an ambivalent attitude towards zoo. I don't think wild animals that need a large natural range should be in enclosed artificial spaces. I remember, when I was a kid, there was a zoo in my hometown Torino. It was quite sad, with large cats (I am talking about lions and tigers) pacing back and forth inside concrete cells with iron bars. Alienation. In the end the zoo was closed. That zoo certainly deserved to be closed, but did the animals got better off by the zoo closing? Maybe some of them got to be transferred, but for many of them that couldn't be moved the closure of their prison meant a death sentence. Great, uh?

On the other hand, the kind of zoo that was in my city would be unheard of today. Modern zoos have exhibit spaces that are designed to mimic as close as possible the natural environment where the animals were living (I could have fooled you with the photo above, right?). Zoo's animals are never caught in the wild, but are either born in other zoos or rescued animals that would have died if left in the wild. Zoo's animal generally have a longer lifespan than their wild brethren, because of veterinary care, absence of predators, reliable source of food. Modern zoos focus on conservancy, and help preserving endangered species with breeding programs aimed to maintain a viable population within zoos and in the wild. Closing all zoos and freeing their animals won't do any good to their long term survival, if their wild environment keeps being destroyed, as it is the case for many species that are typically found in zoos. It is however a thin line: after all zoos need money to survive, and for that they need visitors, which means entertaining exposition, and that may conflict with the needs of the animals being exposed. There is a tension between conservancy and entertainment. So, zoos are not the same as the circus that was in my old city, and they absolve an important mission. Still, it would be nice that there wasn't the need of keeping a big spotted cat behind a glass wall, where even with the best intentions she will never be the cat she was intended to be.

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