We went to the zoo zoo zoo: A Musing

As someone passionate about animals, I have a uncomfortable relationship with zoos. We need zoos (or do we?) to learn about animals and protect species from ourselves. Our local zoos are heavily involved in species preservation globally. Still, we are using animals for human entertainment. My dilemna. More of that another time.

When I was eight, my parents took us to a circus. To their embarrassment, I cried through the whole thing. My distress was in watching the animals do things that animals were not supposed to do. Elephants balancing on tiny steps, ponies running in endless circles with acrobats upon their backs, lions being whipped and dogs without any wag to their tails. At eight I could not explain why I was so upset. I have never been to a circus that uses animals again.

Back to zoos. I like the care and passion of the staff and the commitment to animal welfare, and sometimes there are other attractions. There was a cultural day at Healesville Sanctuary yesterday. I wanted to take Youngest Daughter and Grandson. YD has lots of cultural experience and knows her mob and family. Grandson has no cultural experience and his heritage is English, not Aboriginal. I feel strongly however, that the culture of this land needs to be known and felt by those born of this land. And so we went.

Eldest Daughter and ED Husband were keen to see the animals. YD was keen to stay in the area where Community was. Grandie wanted to watch everything, run everywhere and play. He’s 3 and has a few disabilities that means he functions younger. He’s my good time boy. Grandie was enormously excited by the boomerang throwing. The boomerang went high and the Wurundjeri Elder throwing it caught it nearly every time. When he’s really excited, Grandie holds up both hands, rubbing his fingers together, grinning hugely. He could have watched the boomerang throwing all day. However there were dancers to run through the middle of and dijeridoo players to barge through, puppets to fiddle with and an artist’s not quite dry work to run his fingers over. Painting the rocks and the water holder and the table and Grandma was fun. Most of all he enjoyed having his face painted. This was the first time he had sat still to have his face painted. He obviously enjoyed the experience as he went into dreamy mode and kept pointing to unpainted parts of his face. The face painter happily obliged.

He was impressed with the Cassowary and very much with the Emus, then we went into the Lyrebird Aviary. There is a Lyrebird pair in the aviary and Mr Lyrebird was focussed on attracting Ms Lyrebird. He had every bird noise down pat and, if we were not mistaken, some distinctive electronic sounds and Rap and Beatbox. Mr Lyrebird’s enthusiasm was a little sad as he had a captive audience in Ms Lyrebird. She was ignoring him anyway.

My grandson didn’t notice any of them once he spied the stairs and the high viewing area. Up the steps we went. Him in the lead and ED and I a step behind. He was so impressed with how high he was that he ventured up twice more with other family members in tow. His parents tried to get him to move on and see other animals. Why? He hadn’t really noticed the ones we’d already passed. I figured it was his visit and he could experience it however he did.

He did noticed the koalas when we finally got there. He signed ‘eating’ and said clearly, yuck! The koala was awake and munching on gum leaves, as they do. The energy from the leaves is so poor and takes so long to digest that koalas spend much of their time sleeping. I said that koalas eat leaves, nothing else. He looked at me with disbelief then took off around the koala bridge. It took four laps before he slowed down. A snack and playground play later, he was ready to go.

He may not have seen many animals but he was there experiencing so many things. I may have a discomfort about zoos but I would choose to take him again. The animal enclosures make me feel sad, particularly the calling Kookaburra on its own, but the care, passion and enthusiasm of the staff go a long way to making up for it. Healesville took care of a lot of animals hurt in the Black Saturday fires seven years ago. Many of them could be released and those that could not have homes at the zoo. The kooka was also injured and was unable to be released.

As for my grandson, I barely re-told the story of his day at the zoo before he was fast asleep.