Zoos are for Children

23 Feb

We were recently introduced to Five Sisters Zoo by Lisa and Andrea, an animal-loving couple we’re very good friends with. The zoo is significant for its focus on animal rescue. Its latest rescues are two bears who had been saved from a life of circus performance, and a lynx who had been living in a small enclosure at a rescue centre that could no longer provide for him. The zoo had gone to enormous trouble to build spacious naturalistic habitats for these animals. I approved of its sense of priority: it provides proper hiding places for every creature, and visitor visibility be damned.

Thus the bears were out of sight, hibernating in underground hollows among the trees. Buster the lynx was wide awake, though. Here he is, looking a bit unsure of himself in his new surroundings. He had climbed to the top of one of his climbing frames in his woodland enclosure. The zoo owner told us he likes to watch the comings and goings in the car park from this vantage point. I blinked at him in the slow way that cats do to smile at each other, and he blinked slowly back.


The more long-term zoo inhabitants were busy, happy and curious. They enjoyed looking at the visitors and trying to poke us through the bars. Various species of lemur tried to lick my camera lens, and this one succeeded.

Lens snogger

Some of the birds spoke to us with such charm, it was difficult to walk away from them.


I loved the scents of the different animals: the foxy meerkats, the goaty-horsey reindeer, the lemony raven. The skunk was, sadly, snoozing in a hole, so I didn’t get to satisfy my curiosity on that score.

Andrea adored the monkey house, particularly the tamarins who all crowded up to her, some of them hanging upside down, to scrutinize her closely. Lisa was immensely popular with all the animals, because she happened to be carrying a crackly bag. Animals have a special affinity for crackly bags. One otter went berzerk, rushed around squeaking, then climbed to the top of a tree and loudly berated her for not sharing her tuna sandwiches. Until then, I hadn’t realised that otters could climb trees.

Tree otter

Major renovations were being carried out at the zoo during our visit. New and better enclosures were going up, but in the interim some animals were unavailable to view, and a lot of  the housing had incongruous signage.


We had each paid a little extra for a “handling session”, because who would pass up an opportunity like that? At the appointed time we made our way to the reptile house, and presently the head keeper appeared and began setting out chairs. The chairs were very, very small. As more visitors entered the building, we realised that everyone else waiting to handle the animals was half our height and a tenth of our age. A cluster of parents looked on proudly from behind a barrier as the four of us squatted on the tiny chairs among their infants.

Head Keeper Lynn introduced us all to a python, a tortoise, and a giant hissing cockroach. She gave a talk about each one – where it came from, its habitat and body structure, and how to hold it safely. We listened meekly and did as we were told.

Head Keeper Lynn

The looks of wonder on the children’s faces was a joy to behold. We loved that they had been given this experience, but we couldn’t imagine why their parents had chosen not to take part too. Nor could we understand why the zoo (with its tiny chairs) expected this. We thought about other people we knew, and realised that, for most people, animals are a form of children’s entertainment. If an adult buys a pet, then it’s a dog or a cat or a fish. All other pets are bought for children. Even when adults go to feed ducks, it’s generally because they have kids with them. This delight in animals displayed by Lisa and Andrea somehow gets lost  when people reach adulthood:

Animal people

Happily for the future of conservation and this blog, there are still many people who don’t grow out of it. For Bunty and me, the best part of visiting the zoo was that it didn’t have to end. We arrived home to our own zoo, which welcomed us back with a crescendo of squeaks and meows and grunts and binkies, the moment Bunty crackled a bag.

8 Responses to “Zoos are for Children”

  1. Jon Kover February 23, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that! I live now in Utica, New York, USA, and there is a zoo here. Growing up here, I remember it for its stank, but thought that that’s how zoos smelled. Live and learn, as is said. Now that I have returned to my old stomping grounds, I may see what can be done, or if anything needs to be done, here at the Utica Zoo. Who knows? Maybe over the years when I was away, they have managed the necessary improvements. We’ll see, won’t we?

    • Snailquake February 23, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

      It would be great to see more zoos making more effort towards animal welfare, enrichment and conservation. There’s a code that a lot of British zoos make a big effort to follow in this regard, but it’s optional and they don’t all do it.

  2. Impybat February 23, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    I really loved what you wrote, especially the part about how most people consider animals to be children’s entertainment. It’s unfortunate but true! My love for animals will never diminish and I will always share my home with them if I can. To me, they are more than just entertainment– they are sentient, amazing creatures who experience a range of emotions and each one has a distinct personality. It just so happens that they are also entertaining on a regular basis :D I also would like to see more zoos and centers work towards making a better, more habitable place for their inhabitants.

  3. Li Sheridan February 24, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    nice blog… great you left out some of the more gormless pictures :)

    • Snailquake February 25, 2013 at 12:59 am #

      Heehee! That’s what Facebook is for.

  4. The Smile Scavenger March 18, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    Ahh! I missed your posts. Glad to have you back. :)

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