“This place is a zoo”
An idiom commonly used to describe chaos, dysfunction and overcrowding, adds a dismaying, even sinister, cloud over Sunday’s family outing.
A magical land that materializes mufasa and allows you to stare into the eyes of great apes—I’d like to believe that every zoo has only honorable intentions and that every visitor is attempting to further their own understanding of wildlife.
However, according to Jon Mooallem, “The average time a person spends in front of an animal enclosure at an American zoo is 99.31 seconds.” I spend more seconds singing good morning jingles to my cat. Hardly enough time to read the small informational plaques outside of the enclosures but just enough to snap a quick picture of the animal crouched behind the smudged glass for a new addition to the facebook album: Zootopia!
Zoos are meant to be educational. I mean, I think. Unfortunately, it seems as though zoos have become more of a tourist attraction for locals looking for a place for their children to run amok. This culture that feeds into the idea of bears being cuddly and giraffes being quirky, is unfortunately the same culture that allows us to ignore the issues that these animals are facing in the wild and in captivity.
After visiting the D.C. zoo a few years back I thought, this is what a zoo should be! Not for profit, it was educational and more of a sanctuary. (Though who knows if that’s true. At its core, it is still a place for humans to gawk at animals in cages.) It’s unfortunate that the founder of the Nation’s zoo, William Temple Hornaday, taxidermist turned extreme conservationist was “purposefully edited out of American environmentalism.”
After opening the D.C. zoo, Hornaday wrote Our Vanishing Wildlife, an intense account of every animal that was in danger of going extinct due to overhunting. “It is time for all men to be told in the plainest terms that there never has existed, anywhere in historic times, a volume of wild life so great that civilized man could not quickly exterminate it by this methods of destruction.” Hornaday’s ideas about protection of wildlife would become the basis for the Endangered Species Act (passed 40 years after his death). He devoted over half his life to the preservation of wildlife, which earned him many enemies and turned him into a hateful cynic.
Rudi Mattoni, a Lepidopterist, who devoted most of his adult life to the protection of butterflies, with the exception of the decade that he devoted to teaching astronauts about personal hygiene during aerospace missions, is another example of a man driven to the brink. He became apocalyptically pessimistic after seeing so many habitats destroyed. Mattoni eventually became as critical as Hornaday and moved to Buenos Aires where he has proclaimed a loss of faith in humanity and has classified his life’s work as irrelevant.
I believe conservation is important, and I do my best to lessen my carbon footprint but sometimes it does seem like a lost cause. Something that is good for the environment might be bad for a specific group of humans; I only buy clothes second hand because I don’t have to think about who made it or where it came from.
But those yoga pants I bought second hand on thredup.com are sending microfibers into the ocean every time I wash them so how the hell am I supposed to make a good decision about anything?!
The world is disheartening and I often feel overwhelmed by the lack of good news I hear on a regular basis. Being concerned about human rights, equality and the environment can tear away an remaining threads of optimism. Luckily, I have excellent friends to vent to, cry to and laugh with.
Most of the information in this story came from a book called “Wild Ones” by Jon Mooallem. Find it, read it.