London Zoo

25 Jul

On Friday T and I had some discount tickets to go to the London Zoo for one of their kid-free nights.  I have never been to the zoo before.  As a child it just never happened and as an adult I questioned the ethics of these institutions.  Despite this  I was  very excited about going.

I assume that zoos in Europe and America have to maintain strict levels of animal welfare and work very hard in areas of animal conservation.  Although it was amazing to see some animals which I hadn’t seen before, like a gorilla and tiger (albeit rather far away) and even some of those I had, I left the zoo feeling rather sad.

Firstly, although the zoo encourages conservation it didn’t seem to question some incredibly important behaviours which have a huge impact on the planet and habitats.  I am a vegetarian and I don’t usually preach but isn’t it a huge disconnect to serve burgers in a zoo and even more terrifying fish and chips fairly close to the aquarium?!?  What we eat has a huge impact on the planet.  Burgers may be sustainably sourced at the zoo (I didn’t check) but this doesn’t mean people will go home and question where their supermarket fish or meat comes from.  Meat production is related to a plethora of issues but one of them is that soy production in the rainforest which is used to feed animals around the world is causing huge amounts of deforestation and consequently animal and plant extinctions.  If you want to read more about this Friends of the Earth did a report a couple years ago.  Overfishing is causing fish stocks to collapse and bad fishing practices also have knock on effects on coral reef (the rainforests of the sea).

Secondly, the animals just looked bored.  I was incredibly lucky to grow up with a father who lived in the “bush” in Botswana.  I suppose I must disclose that he was a hunter, and although I don’t morally agree with killing animals this was strictly monitored by the government and my dad is in fact a keen conservationist.  Anyway, that meant that growing up I got to see majestic animals in their natural environment.  One of my most vivid memories is from when I was probably about 10 seeing a herd of elephants going down to a waterhole.  The matriarch came out of the trees first, checked the waterhole out and then beckoned the rest of the herd down.  As each of the baby elephants walked past her they would touch her with their trunks.  It was absolutely amazing to see the connection between these animals.  I just feel that as important as zoos are for breeding programmes etc animals just belong in the wild and I am not totally sure how seeing a bored tiger in a fairly small enclosure encourages people to do something about the fact that they are a disappearing species.

I left the zoo feeling that they didn’t deal with deeper issues of why the animals are in this mess and how we can do something to fix it, aside from donating some money to appease any guilt we might have…

I hope that wasn’t too preachy but would love your thoughts.

To make it up to you here are some of the lovelies.

Thankfully this is no longer the penguin pool, but it was a great piece of art deco architecture and I love to imagine cartoon penguins dancing and sliding around it in a Fred and Ginger kind of way.  They do have tuxedos on after all. T tells me I shouldn’t anthropomorphosise animals.  I told him using that word made him sound pretentious.


4 Responses to “London Zoo”

  1. That in black ink 25 July 2011 at 11:20 am #

    This was a really thoughtful peace, and it’s nice to read that someone else thinks about these things! I suppose zoos want to make the most money they can to plough into conservation, but that does lead to a lack of willingness to challenge the ways in which their visitors’ behaviour contributes to the endangered status of the animals. My sister works in a zoo which has a lot of lemurs, but she and her colleagues didn’t connect at all with a recent campaign to stop oil company Total from developing tar sands in Madagascar ( It’s another example of serving fish & chips by the aquarium I suppose!

  2. eremophila 25 July 2011 at 11:24 am #

    I don’t think you were too preachy:-) I’ve not been to a zoo since I was a teenager….there’s various reasons for that, but yes, amongst the reasons is concern for the life the animals have there. Surely to bring some balance into the situation, there should be cages for various humans? I fail to see much difference, apart from the fact that humans, far from being endangered, are the very species that cause massive losses to the natural environment.
    Also, for most, it’s easier to donate some money, rather than change behaviour.
    On a lighter note, I love the art deco pool!

  3. Amanda 17 August 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    (Oh Michelle, I had left you a very long answer and it disappeared, so here goes again). I found your blog via Claire (That in Black ink) and Kirsty (a safe mooring). I am a biologist and a vet, and it is great to find people with similar affinities/interests/thoughts/dilemmas. I also love to see how everything is connected.
    -Thanks for talking about the complex issues around soy agriculture and for sharing that report. A lot of people (mostly vegetarians, who rely on soy as a protein source) are unaware of this and they get all poker faced when you try to explain this. It is great to have such a well done reference. It also irritates me because some of this so called vegetarians are ok with milk and eggs… not knowing that the calf is taking away from their mom to be turned into meat (Of course there is biological 100 % grass fed meat, and I know that Europe is struggling to increase animal welfare in farms). And don-t get me started on egg production… it is one of the most awful things are ever seen, and even those with the 0 label were put back inside because of the Avian Flu threat (to chicken), but at least they can roam freely.
    -On the Zoos issue, well, I have worked and volunteered at Zoos education department, mainly with children and I believe strongly that these kind of activities can help mould the mind and ideas of children and thus really start positive change. I have seen it happen. They can really take in how all is connected and how it is possible to make a difference. On a personal level too, I think, as a child, going to zoos encouraged me, impressed me in such a way that I went into Biology/Conservation and then Veterinary medicine. So even if I agree that there is lots of work to be done and things to improve (like the incongruities you point out), a lot is done to ensure the animals welfare. Overall though there are negative issues that are an urgent matter I believe in the role of Zoos in Education/Conservation and Science.
    -Your blog is an inspiration, I also love ice cream, travel, and I care (and go crazy) about how to actually make a difference and feel deeply about environmental issues. If you would like to visit my little place of thoughts you are of course welcome.

    (And sorry for such a long reply).

  4. Amanda 17 August 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Oh I meant “calf taken away”

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