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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why do we love zoos?

My dad and I got into a bit of a discussion about zoos the other day via email (or text? I don't actually remember). He's an optimistic idealist who wants them to be able to live in their natural habitats, while I pointed out that many species we enjoy at the zoo would be extinct if not for the selected breeding programs many zoos have. He then asked why we couldn't just breed a whole bunch of them and release them into the wild... My dad, ever the optimist.

Not the point of this though.

He sent me this article today from the New York Times Online, titled "Why We Love Zoos" - and after reading it, I wanted to share.

"Why do we flock to them? It’s not just a pleasant outing with family or friends, or to introduce children (whose lives are a cavalcade of animal images) to real animals, though those are still big reasons. I think people are also drawn to a special stripe of innocence they hope to find there.

Though not a natural world by any means, more like a collection of living dioramas, a zoo exists in its own time zone, somewhere between the seasonal sense of animals and our madly ticking watch time. The relatively quiet, parklike setting offers an oasis in the crowded, noisy, stressful, morally ambiguous world where humans tend to congregate. The random gibbering and roaring, cackling and hooting, yowling and grunting strike ancient chords in us, a feral harmony that intrigues and lulls.

Smells create a subtle olfactory landscape that stirs us: from the sweet drops that male elephants dribble from glands near their eyes in mating season to the scent signposts of lions, hyenas and other animals. Just as dancers have body memory, we have wilderness memory."

What I find more interesting about this, is that a large number of zoo visitors are adults without children in tow- much like J and I. It's a place to go, relax and just enjoy. Of course, there are the ever-present obnoxious children, normally being chased by the as-if-not-more-than-annoying-parents. Sadly, people like that are everywhere. 

I have to say, I agree, though. The sounds striking an ancient cord within us, the smells bringing back a memory we can't quite place- very similar to that of a wild thunderstorm- the calming effect they bring to many people. Of course, I think thunderstorms are a little different in that (a) some people are terrified of them (I don't know anyone terrified of the zoo) and (b) it seems to be the raw power or chaos of storms that is most calming. I don't know if I find zoos chaotic (not talking about the visitors, I mean the zoo itself).
Now, I must find another zoo to visit. My inner cave-woman is not quite satiated yet.

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