On Day 90 of the Nowhere To Be Project I stupidly broke my decades long stretch of zoo-free living. I spent the day at the Toronto Zoo and it was a big mistake. In the 1990s, I began a personal boycott on any facility that caged animals. I just felt that I could not support any organization except those that operated as sanctuaries. Lately, I’ve been hearing so much about conservation and the importance of supporting groups that focus on it. With that in mind, I broke my ban when I entered the gates of the Toronto Zoo this morning. I realized that I’d made a mistake almost immediately when I spotted so many of the animals pacing frantically in their cages. They may have basic care needs met, but life in cages snuffs out much of their natural instinctual behavior. The pacing looks like a manifestation of anxiety and that simply breaks my heart. Many of the patrons try to interact with the animals by calling to them or (even worse) tapping on the glass and this seems to agitate them even more. Today I saw a hyena repeatedly jump on the glass trying fruitlessly to reach a woman in a beeping scooter. The sound paired with the motion of the scooter was literally driving him nuts!
The breaking point for me today occurred when I gazed into the 46 year old eyes of Charles, a gorilla. Charles is a beautiful silverback who has lived at the zoo since 1974 (he was two). I’m not sure how or why he came to Toronto from Africa. The zoo indicates that they reintroduce animals to the wild when possible which clearly didn’t happen for Charles. I liken his existence to 44 years in prison. Yes, he’s fed, receives medical care and interacts socially with other gorillas. However, he exists in a cage that is similar to the size of an average one bedroom apartment.
The Grizzly bears were really hard to watch as well. The male began pacing at the access door to his cage when the attendant drove by in a golf cart. I think he thought it was feeding time because he has associated the cart’s engine with meal time. His natural instinct toward foraging for berries and catching fish in a stream has dissolved into pacing at a manufactured gate. To me, that’s just terribly sad!
I am able to see some of the benefits of zoos such as education and the controlled breeding of endangered species. I just wish that there was a more determined effort to return animals to their natural habitat. I also believe that those animals who are not candidates for a return to the wild should be released to sanctuaries rather than caged at zoos. No mores zoos for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on zoos…