I’ve never quite made my mind up about zoos, and watching Animal Park on BBC2 just now still makes me feel uneasy. I went to Chester zoo many years back, and it typified the problems I have with the idea – concrete pens, small cages, no fields – I can still remember one of the big cats, perhaps a jaguar or similar, that had worn a groove in the floor of its cage, as it pounded around the perimeter incessantly. The floor was made of concrete.
Animal Park is about a safari park, which to me is just a zoo with big cages. Definitly a step in the right direction, but still there’s something I find wrong about it. I’m not doubting that the animals are well looked after from a physical point of view, the keepers and vets treat them well. But I can’t help thinking that in our society, imprisonment is a punishment, and house arrest is just a nicer version of the same thing.
One thing that I found especially concerning was the trick-performing parrots. From going ‘quack’ when they see a picture of a duck, to raising flags and jumping onto mini roller skates, I wonder what they might think of it – it’s just association learning; they are only looking for some food at the end of it. The keeper said that the parrots have the mental age of a three year old, and so need keeping occupied, and that the educational messages that the parrots can teach youngsters and adults alike are worth it. He has a point, but could Attenboroughs documentaries be a better idea?
It would be nice (but naive) to think that we don’t need to keep wild animals in captivity, and use their freak-show-like money pulling powers to draw cash into breeding and conservation work. But there is more to life than growing old, however healthy and well fed you may be – and I think of that when I look at the pack of lions in an Englishman’s Country Estate.