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we saved the elephants for last

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Finally, I got someone to go to the zoo with me. Nicole and I were equally psyched about seeing the baby tigers today. We made that our first exhibit. A must. After paying our entry fees we sprinted (in a very spastic, childlike way) towards the building in which the tiger cubs are housed. It seemed everyone was going our way. We passed old folk and kids in strollers and stood in line for quite a while before we, along with twenty or so other people (big and little) were allowed in for our five minutes (which, I swear to you, was only two minutes) of alloted tiger-time.

The little guys were cute as hell. Very active, very playful, oblivious to the presence of their mom and the group of humans just on the other side of the glass.

Other than the river otters, they seemed to be the only animals who didn’t mind zoo life all that much. (The penguins, it seemed, were on vacation–possibly strike–they were no where to be

I’ve been to the zoo–I don’t know–dozens of times, maybe more, in my life. And it’s always been a joyful experience. As I’ve settled into adulthood I’ve tried to take pleasure seeing a collection of animals I will likely never get to see in their habitat. I take great pleasure, too, in seeing all the youngsters in all their goofiness, mocking the animals, laughing, crying at the sight of something they’ve never seen. Sometimes I find myself more in awe of where all this is, that I haven’t left the city, that I’m a mere 30 blocks away from my own habitat and here are all these animals.

Anyway, Nicole and I made a rather chaotic meandering through the zoo, stopping for long stretches in some areas, quickly passing other animals (I managed to not go into the nocturnal house, thankfully). Tiger cubs first, adult tigers, gorillas, a handful of others somewhere in the midst of all that. We saved the elephants for last.

And it was there that it all sunk in. Even the little one was pacing, restless. One of the older Asian elephants stood in one place, tapping her feet, crossing her legs. She looked, at first, like a Rockette mid-routine. Really, though, she was showing signs of having been in captivity too long (though, in saying that, I am not in any way suggesting that there is an allotted period of time in which it is okay for anyone—animal or human—to be in captivity). My stomach clenched and my chest tightened.

This isn’t home for any of these animals. Yes, of course I know that, and I constantly reflect on the fact that I am pretty darned lucky to have such a resource so close to me. Or am I? To what degree am I entitled to see these animals, regardless of their level of endangerment? My ten dollars certainly doesn’t do much in terms of making the whole situation ‘right.’ It certainly doesn’t make their situation any better. Even if I visited the zoo every day, even if I donated a bunch of money, I could never get those guys enough room to roam.

So what do we do, then? Stop going to the zoo and try to get others to do the same? What would that result in? Less money for the zoos, less care for the animals. But to do the opposite, to go all the time, seems to be a measure of support for confining animals.
I don’t know. All I could do then, and, I suppose, all I’ll do from no on, is spend time with the animals, observe them as closely as I can, stand in constant awe of the fact that this is co-existence, quite likely the only way I will ever have a chance to be close to the animals, to send silent vibes to them, wishing them well and thanking them.

I think back to those tiger cubs, two little guys who were born at Woodland Park four months ago. We think quite often about those who are born into poverty or impoverished lifestyles. But how often do we think of those who are born into lives of abject servitude, those who will never know where they come from, who will always live in a place that only somewhat mimics their home?

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Author: Kim Sharp

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