• Nic

Thinking about zoos, the good, the bad, the sad…


Good Day All,

Rather than present more typical spring flower photos, I thought a few from our recent trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo might be more interesting.  We have mixed feelings about our zoo here.  It has been a very important part of our lives and our children have spent hours and hours enjoying it’s creative and compact geography.  We joined in 1997, the year Samuel was born and have been regular visitors ever since.  It is close enough that when we home schooled we often walked over for a visit and I can not tell you the number of cold February days that, “going to the aquarium and zoo” saved my sanity.

The flip side has been two very sad incidents that have also deeply effected us.  In 2002 a elephant keeper was killed by a female elephant while they were walking around zoo before the zoo opened.  This was a sad tragedy but was deeply personalized for us because of a scene that my friend Lynette and I had witnessed just days before.  We were, as I said, frequent zoo visitors and Lynette and I often took our kids together.  As we stood in the elephant house discussing the fact that the long time head of the elephant program had left to work in Germany we observed that they seemed to be doing things a bit differently.  Then we saw the keeper trying to get a mother elephant to kneel while he was bathing her.  Over the years we had seen this many times, but on this day the man was using his mahout stick very roughly.  Both Sam and Kaleigh, just preschoolers, were very disturbed, “Why is he doing that, why is he hitting her?”  We tried to explain the elephant is so big and that little hooked stick couldn’t hurt too much, but we were both deeply uncomfortable.  We left profoundly troubled by what we had seen since before then we had only ever observed keepers calmly working the elephants.  It was that keeper who died just days later and to this day I am fairly certain it was that female who crushed him in just seconds.  More recently was the very tragic loss of a two year old that fell into the wild dog exhibit.  I awoke in bed to my clock radio alarm reporting the incident.  I woke up crying because it was such a sad, sad story and I wanted it be a nightmare and not true, but it was true.

These are the only two fatalities ever at the Pittsburgh zoo and we have been here for both, and they have raised questions for us about the appropriateness of dragging wild animals from around the globe to our zoo for us to gawk at.  The wild dog incident in particular makes us question if predators should become Disney-fied in our eyes.  These were a pack of wild animals doing what they do, maybe we should have much greater respect for them and the fact that we are, in the wild, often prey.  We still go to the zoo, not very often now, and when we do we continue to ask ourselves whether it is good to have polar bears and elephants who travel 50 plus miles a day in a lovely but relatively tiny enclosure?  Is it good to keep predators like lions, tigers, and alligators on display?  Maybe our zoos should only have animals from our area? Or animals that can live in smaller areas comfortably?  I don’t know.  This probably wasn’t what you were expecting but as I thought about it I realized I really am rather mixed about it.

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