My Trip to the Zoo

Kali the Polar Bear and Fans

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.

Grizzly Ridge

Female Grizzly Bear – Finley

Today, I went to Forest Park for the fifth time this week. On Monday, I walked to the zoo and saw the new Grizzly Ridge bear exhibit that opened while we were out-of-town. Tuesday and Wednesday I bicycled in the park. Yesterday, Anne and I drove to the art museum, but I’ve already reported on that. Today, I once again biked in the park, but since it was going to be super hot, I got up early and launched at dawn’s early light. That’s five times in the seven days that I’ve been back in town. Pretty good, if I do say so myself. It feels good to be back on the bike again, but as long as it remains hot, I’ll be getting up early. 

Grizzly Ridge is the new home for Huckleberry (or Huck) and Finley, which is a feminization of Finn, as in Huck Finn. Brother and Sister, these two now two-and-a-half year-olds were captured in Montana as cubs, when forest rangers put their mother down. It has taken over a year for them to get to Saint Louis. Their enclosure was built from the last two of the five old bear pits that were built in the 1920s. In their day these moated bear pits were herald as innovations over cages, which were then the norm. Calvin Coolidge was fooled into believing that their molded concrete walls were natural rock formations. 60% of the original masonry was preserved in the $11M fabrication of the new enclosure, which is twice the size of one of the old pits, with half the population or four times the space. Plexiglas has replaced the need for moats, allowing patrons to get much closer. More natural grounds and a pool are a big departure from the old concrete flooring. Finley is seen chewing on an “enrichment treat”.