Do you remember your first time in a zoo? Which animal amazed you the most? Was it the tiger? Or was it the funny antics of the monkeys? The very first time you ever saw your first giraffe or rhinoceros; do you remember how extraordinary it was that this great fantastic creature was actually there, sharing the world with you? If you live close to a zoo, then for you it is probably still 'The Zoo'. It may still have affectionate memories for you, memories of strange exotic creatures, and curious smells; a place full of wild animals with a power to intrigue, frighten or amuse.
I frequent the National Zoo rather often. That’s because I have an inquisitive 5 year old child who would never stop talking about animals, especially the wild kinds. With all the animal documentaries aired on channels like the Animal Planet and National Geographic, the zoo is actually a great way to further deepen a child’s understanding of these beasts. Yet, with every step I take inside the vicinity of this enclosed area, I feel rather awkward as if I was walking with guilt.
Of course there are fun things to do in the zoo. The train rides are a must. It helps cut short the distances from one exhibit area to another. As we pass those towering giraffes and huge hippos, I can’t help but wonder if they (the giraffes and hippos) wished they were at home – the dry, opened wooded savannas. Imagine the trouble our airlines went through to bring them in this country? Was it ever stressful for these animals? We can only guess.
Yet there are times where I question the existence of zoos? For instance, when I see them all caged up or treated as “performers” especially when the highlights in the zoo are watching monkeys cycling on miniature bicycles. The most dreadful moment never ceases to haunt me when we walk pass the tigers’ cages. A horde of curious and often time ignorant tourists would stand in front of the tiger’s cage and make roaring sounds, imitating an urban tiger, only to keep the poor animal further a bay. Just because we paid fifteen Ringgit (for an adult, a child ticket costs six Ringgit) for a trip to the zoo, we sometimes expect the animals in there to be on stand by to perform for us.
In this case, zoos are not always exotic and exciting places. They may be cruel, and depressing. And however startling our first impressions of the zoo might have been, we soon begin to look at the world with clearer, more critical eyes. I no longer visit the zoo to marvel at the sheer size of the elephants or to gasp at the jaws of the crocodiles, and I start to question the ethics of it all.
Is there such a thing as a good zoo? Are zoos justifiable in this state of global environmental realism? Do they simply exist to satisfy a rather old fashioned appetite for the curious and the nasty? Is there a need to cage these wild animals, especially now that we have television wildlife programmes to satisfy our thirst for knowledge of the wild world? Are zoos really “green”?
No doubt these zoo natives were once wild animals in their natural habitat. For some unforeseen circumstances, many of them were accidentally caught in the wild or injured and then sent to the zoo for safekeeping. Some were survivors from the illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife. In Zoo Negara, for instance, 5137 species are kept in 110 acres of land that’s equivalent to 0.445154 square km. A tiger alone needs some 20 square km to roam. Get the picture?
It is undeniable that zoos are great educational centers especially for urban dwellers, to take a closer understanding of these creatures from the wild. Zoos make great educators for our children, teaching us all to love and appreciate the wildlife of our planet, and they are centers of academic research. Apart from on-site educators, zoos also provide various kinds of outreach programmes to visitors where they get to learn more about the behavioral aspects of these species. Today's zoos are also sanctuaries for rare and endangered animals.
And surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, depending upon your prejudices or your point of view, the evidence suggests that there are still plenty of good zoos. Some of them undoubtedly deserve to be listed among the best zoos in the world. Others at least deserve more local recognition. The best zoos are bold and innovative. Take Malacca Zoo for instance. It is the second largest Zoo in the country encompassing 54-acres with more than 1,200 animals of over 200 different species. It is also the first Zoo in the region to exhibit the rare and endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros and Gaur. The tiger population in the zoo is also steadily increasing. Breeding in captivity has generally yielded little improvements but the Malacca Zoo is proving otherwise. Having said this, zoos actually represent a way to escape the total condemnation of wild species.
All in all, many of these issues about zoos are complex and controversial. It really depends on what shade of green you are, dark green being those who think that wild animals should be left in the wild, and light green represent those who wouldn’t mind zoos as it’s a convenient place to appreciate nature. But there is a growing consensus that there are good zoos. They deserve our patronage, and we in turn can learn from them, and can gain a great deal of pleasure from visiting them.
The next time you have to make a trip to the zoo, pay special attention to areas in which you think you can lend a helping hand. You can always help them raise some funds with out reach programmes. Or get your company to organize a family trip to the zoo among staff and family. Purchase natural fertilizer, also called Zoo Poo, from the zoos as a show of support. If you own a creative company, give a pro-bono rate and offer your free creative services to make the zoo more appealing. Volunteering is also a great start. It helps to also promote the zoo. We can’t expect a non-profit organization like the zoo to survive without our support, could you?