When I was young we lived right near the Detroit Zoo and because we were resourceful children left to our own devices my brother and I figured out how to hop the fence at a certain spot. We spent most of our summer days, with a variety of friends, at the zoo. Fairly early on I knew I didn’t much like the way animals were kept at that zoo. It’s an old WPA project but not one of the better ones; at least back then, it was sort of dark and damp with giant cement bunker like enclosures and a whole lot of stereotypical pacing going on between the elephants and the lions. It smelled really bad. So early on I was of the opinion that zoos were not a happening place, at least for the permanent residents and a lot I’ve carried that attitude into adulthood. I certainly know we have no business keeping God’s creatures caged up in conditions that are radically worse or different from their natural habitats.
The other side of this coin is I really (REALLY) like to be able to check these animals out- the ones I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.
Today, compliments of Rich’s friends at Anheiser-Busch, we went on a private tour of the animal part of Busch Gardens. Rich and Abby and a friend of ours from Ann Arbor and I got to ride in a jeep and go right inside the enclosures and see them up close. At each stop we were met by a member of the animal education staff who talked to us about them. We were able to hand feed the giraffes and a black rhino and a baby hippo and we hung around with the flamingos and the Clydesdales. I would say it was one of the best days I can remember.
Here are a few interesting things:
-The black rhino population dropped more precipitously than any other known mammal, by over 90%, in less that a couple decades. All because that horn- which only consists of hair and carotene- is worth 25,000 a pound to poachers. That means that the unsightly protrusion on the guy I fed today is worth a cool quarter million dollars.
-As a result of poaching, very few large African mammals even live “in the wild” anymore. Most all are on preserves or in protected parklands, in Africa and elsewhere.
-At Busch Gardens they rotate the hyenas and lions into each other’s enclosures on a daily basis. Even though they remain separated, since they are enemies by nature, the scent and territorial markings of the other keeps them alert and on their toes rather than allowing them to get bored or lethargic.
They have about a dozen female giraffes and one male (named Sterling, seen here). Most of the females are currently pregnant by Sterling and due to deliver in the next couple months. Sterling will stay at Busch Gardens until he has a female daughter who is old enough to reproduce (about two years from now) and then he gets the boot in exchange for a new male. Busch Gardens cooperates in a world wide computerized index of giraffe family trees to prevent inbreeding.
-Giraffes have no real natural enemies. They are generally complacent but if attacked, one swift quick would kill a lion, assuming the giraffe is healthy and fit. That thing that looks like their knee is really more like an ankle with the knee up where we think the shoulder is. They only sleep about fifteen minutes a day.
-Hippos can’t breath under water but they do give birth underwater. Also, they don’t know how to swim- they just dance along the bottom. I remember in the 1970’s there was this odd French obstetrician, Frederick Leboyer, who had been in psychoanalysis for about 20 years and decided the root of his many problems was his violent birth and he advocated women deliver their babies underwater…okay, off topic. Sorry.
Anyway, it was a fine Sunday outing. I came away thinking that these animals live a much better life than the ones at the Detroit Zoo of my childhood.
Do they still count as “wild animals” if they all live on preserves and in parks under our protection?