We went to the zoo, which was crowded. It being a Saturday and an unusually warm one at that. Many of the animals appeared lethargic in the heat, but not Polar bear Kali. He was doing laps in one of his chilled-water pools. Much to the joy of his adoring young fans. I recently had a discussion about the ethical nature of zoos. Are they an instrument for education and conservation? Or are they simply an animal prison? I would have to say yes to both questions. In truth though, I find this duality of the zoo to be part of its allure.
Animals, often quite intelligent ones are held there against their will. You can see the effects of captivity on some individuals, what with their resorting to repetitive motion syndromes. I wondered, watching Kali’s “laps” whether that was what I was witnessing, because with each completed circuit of the pool there was a certain synchronicity with the last one that only Olympic swimmers come close to duplicating and only after years of practice.
The great apes can be especially troubling. They are more manlike than any other animals, both in appearance and in manner. They spend every day under the gaze of hundreds of human eyes, which is probably why they tend to hide in any out-of-the-way corner that they can find. One of the orangutans had a cloth that it used like a hijab, to hide its face from the sight of other people.
I don’t like to see animals suffer, which is why I am probably over empathizing here about them. All the animals at the Saint Louis Zoo are cared for by trained and dedicated professionals. They are given the best care humanly possible. Just this year our zoo was named best in the nation. It is a city treasure that rivals the Arch as a source of pride. Admission is free, paid for by Saint Louis citizenry.
Formally, Saint Louis Zoological Park, its genesis was the Smithsonian’s exhibit at 1904 World’s Fair. This walk-through birdcage is still there today. In the Sixties, former zoo director Marlin Perkins rose to national prominence as host of the TV nature show, Wild Kingdom. On his show, Perkins was an early advocate for the preservation of endangered species. These few points are only part of the zoo’s long pedigree.
It is for this greater good, the survival of these species that the justification for the zoo rests. I see the specimens in the zoo as representatives to humanity for their species. Their educational value is inestimable. The children pictured above and hundreds of others are daily taught the esthetics of conservation, preservation and stewardship. They are the future, both theirs and ours.