Did you know there was a zoo in San Francisco? Last weekend, on a lazy Sunday day, I found myself with a few hours and an itch to take a drive, so I packed up my camera and, thanks to Google Maps and their “no highways” option, soon found myself standing in line with thirty other people to gain entrance.
My first stop – the monkeys… out of all the animals at the zoo, they are the ones most likely to look like they are having a good time. I love to watch them run up and down ropes, swing through the air, and play with each other. I like to pretend every screech is a laugh, and perhaps at our expense.
It wasn’t a warm day but the sun was shining, a rarity for anyone who’s familiar with the Sunset area. Everywhere parents and children put their faces to glass, and leaned over fences to get a better look at animals that for the most part, really didn’t care that we were there. It made me wonder how the animals feel about their domestic homes: if the river otter knew the consistent current was artificially crafted, if the hippo slept so deeply out of boredom, and whether the polar bear dreamt of ice.
It got me thinking about zoos and the arguments against them. That keeping animals in captivity for a human’s entertainment, while it may extend their life, is not a guarantee of a higher quality of life.
The San Francisco Zoo was smaller than I anticipated, and the guests’ excitement perhaps a little dimmed by the afternoon naps so prevalent in the animals quarters. The animals who were up and about seemed to take a perverse pleasure in walking away from peering eyes, an act I took as deliberate and potentially their only possible revenge. Even as I angled for photographic opportunities, I applauded them in my heart.
Still, the presence of Zoos in our culture not only helps foster awareness and education of the animal kingdom and their growing needs, but also allows for conservation efforts. Within the San Francisco Zoo, there were three birds with only one wing; as I watched them preening in the sunlight, it was obvious they were cared for and fed well.
I’ve been to more impressive Zoos, ones that seem to flaunt naturalization and focus on the animals more than the guests, but I would be distraught if Zoos disappeared altogether. There is something magical that happens when you see a child seeing a tiger for the first time. Or a gorilla, or a giraffe. It’s a story book character coming to life.
As I was leaving, I was still pondering: what is the right way for Zoos to balance the tension between the visitor’s desire to see animals they might not see any other way, and the well being of the animals themselves? What do you think?