There is a beautiful white bear in the zoo who, some days, is playful and friendly and other days he just lies in a dark corner and doesn’t move. He’s a bipolar bear.
I have a love-hate relationship with the zoo. I love seeing all the animals, but I hate and feel guilty that they are held in captivity against their will. Yesterday, I saw animals both large and small, intelligent and not, all trying to escape their confines. In the 36 years that I’ve lived in Saint Louis the zoo’s facilities for their animals have improved a lot. Cages have been replaced with enclosures and the size of those enclosures have incrementally increased.
The zoo’s newest attraction, Kali the polar bear has his own special built pen that replaced two of the ancient bear pits that were considered state-of-the-art when they were first built. His new cage is a glass enclosure that features a chilled swimming pool and an air-conditioned den, for our notoriously hot Saint Louis summers. Construction is now underway replacing the last of these obsolete bear pits, with another enclosure similar in size to the one already built for Kali. I’m guessing that this one will be for grizzly bear(s). So in the end, four enclosures will be replaced with just two and the new larger ones will house much fewer individuals than the older smaller ones did.
Similar advances have already been made around the zoo, at least for some lucky species, for example the sea lions and elephants. For many of those less fortunate animals remaining, plans have been announced for even further low density development. More land has been acquired south of the highway and plans are to expand there. Still, for some individuals all this goodness is arriving too late. One of the jaguars paces so repetitively back-and-forth and in such a manner as to suggest a mental disorder. Was it induced by captivity?
There are much fewer species of mammals in the Saint Louis Zoo now, than there were 36 years ago. This reduction has been somewhat leavened by the introduction of nontraditional zoo species. Some of the remaining mammalian species are involved in breeding programs that reintroduce individuals back into the wild. This is a good thing. I’ll assuage my guilt knowing that while things are getting better in the zoo, all too often in the wild, things are getting worse.