In 2008, I took a trip to Africa and my view on zoos forever changed.
Many years ago I went through the training at the Houston Zoo to become a docent. It was quite extensive with each of us receiving instruction from all of the different directors of various areas within the zoo. Lectures on mammals, birds and reptiles were designed to arm us with as much information as possible so we could provide educational programs to schools throughout the Houston area.
I had some trepidations about the handling of reptiles since snakes were never right up there on my list of favorite creatures, but time would prove to me that of all the animals and reptiles we took in the zoomobile, the snakes were the only ones that didn’t try to bite me! Prairie dogs have very sharp teeth as do ferrets, baby lambs would knock me down in their excitement to get to the bottle of milk I had for them and hedge hogs were prickly. The snakes were cool, smooth and dry and they were quite content to wind around my hand or arm with absolutely no thought of biting me.
I recognize the valuable role zoos across our planet play in promoting education and in some instances preserving a species from extinction. One of their greatest benefits is providing people with the opportunity to see a species that they might not otherwise be able to see. But once I viewed the animals indigenous to the African continent in their vast homeland, I lost a lot of the pleasure I once derived from visiting different zoos in each city I visited. I’ve seen good ones, bad ones and struggling ones doing the best they can with limited resources and I just can’t get past the fact that as nice as a zoo might be, they all still lack the natural environment and sheer space that promotes good health and well-being in an animal.
I acknowledge the benefits of zoos and as recently as last year visited the San Diego Zoo, considered one of the best in our nation. Here I was able to spend much time watching one of my favorite birds…The American Flamingo. I may never see one in the wild, so I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be up close and personal with these magnificent birds. There is a video that a friend recently shared with me that shows these great birds performing their mass courtship display where hundreds of them move together in what appears to be a coordinated dance of sorts. Check it out at science spirituelle -Projet Lumiere, the dance of the pink flamingos. A group of flamingos is called a “flamboyance” which I think is the perfect word to describe their brilliance.
I can still enjoy a visit to one of the great zoos, but now I find myself comparing the animals there with the ones I was fortunate enough to witness in the African bush. No animal should be caged. So I am always transported back to that magical two weeks spent inhaling the sights and sounds of a place that every human being should visit at least once in their lifetime if at all possible. Save your pennies now and I promise you will never regret the African adventure.
Happy bird searching and “bushwhacking”!!!