Zoos: No Longer Something For Me

I can’t recall the last time that I went to a zoo. It’s been a while. I think the last time was a visit to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. This is an open style zoo: barriers are in place to keep the animals and the humans safe, but they are largely unobtrusive, and give the impression of relative freedom, even if this is on a limited scale.

Spotted tail quoll

Spotted-tail quoll

During a visit to Launceston, I had a wander through the Tasmania Zoo. It is home to many varieties of animals that I wouldn’t expect to see in the middle of a small island, such as camels, lions and tigers. It was a bit of a hike to get there, and I travelled there through the aptly named Meander Valley. As I got out of the car, I could hear sulphur-crested cockatoos swirling above, along with a mixed medley of other bird and animal calls. I paid my entry fee and had a wander about.

Wombat

Wombat

The extensive collection of caged birds began at the entrance. There was the element of novelty initially – how wonderful to see birds that to date I have only seen in books, such as zebra and Gouldian finches. But this novelty soon wore off. Seeing the glorious red-tailed black cockatoos clinging to the chicken wire netting was unsettling. By the time I saw the galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos and long-billed corellas, I’d had enough. Seeing the beautiful Australian king parrots in cages nearly made me cry. They are a gloriously frequent sight in the Blue Mountains and other parts of the mainland: bright, bold and cheeky.

Carnaby's black cockatoo

Carnaby’s black cockatoo

There was a camel, just the one, on site. I passed by the growling, hissing, spitting, fussing and fighting Tasmanian devils, who had just been fed and were busy crunching on something feathered (it really was time for me to leave). A highlight was a pair of wombats, very sweet to look at in their lumbering kind of way. And I detoured to see a short-beaked echidna snuffling with great intent before raising its beak. I was surprised to see a red panda moving about an enclosure. Apparently, they were discovered before the black and white pandas that we usually think of these days.

Tasmanian devil

Tasmanian devil

There were small family groups walking around the park, and I’m sure it’s a great way for kids to learn about animals and birds and the like, but I found the whole experience unsettling.

It may be a reflection of the changes within me more than anything else as the birds and animals were cared for. I feel such pleasure in spotting birds in the wild, watching them in adaptive capacities in areas filled with people, and seeing them go about their own thing. Seeing them caged along with animals was just too much for me on the day.

Red panda

Red panda

Zoos have an important role to play in conservation and education, but I won’t be heading back to one anytime soon.

When was the last time you visited a zoo?

[Photo: short-beaked echidna]

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Scratchings At The Heart

Driving home tonight I listened to a podcast interview with a clinical psychologist. Dr Chris Blazina had completed a study on the relationship between men and their dogs. One of the findings was that for the majority of the middle-aged men who participated in the survey, the relationship they had with their dogs was one of the most safe and trustworthy relationships in their life.

This was in part a reflection of how, in general terms, men may have a smaller group of friendships and people that they are willing to confide in when compared to women of a similar age.

But it also highlights the importance of dogs in people’s lives. A couple of men had called in and left voicemail comments about their relationship with their dogs which provided further insight. John, a farmer, had sadly lost his working dog, Ned, after many years of faithful service. He spoke not only of the usefulness of dogs in a working sense – along with the frustration when they act of their own accord when they believe they know best – but of the sense of loneliness when that constant positive presence is no longer there.

Another caller was a carpenter who had a young border collie called Pip as a working companion. Pip made the workday better, helped with handling stressful situations, and was great at breaking down barriers with customers and other tradespeople on work sites. Tradies felt a bit freer to play with the dog, or speak to her in a high-pitched voice which they normally wouldn’t use.

The study confirmed the important role played by dogs in our lives and relationships in general. Losing a much loved companion animal can be as devastating as the loss of a friend, loved one or the end of a relationship. Animals also play an important role in enhancing our relationships with the people that matter in to us.

Our lives are richer on many levels for being shared with our companion animals.

Scratchings at the heart was one man’s description of his relationship with his dog.

[Photo: dog in bathtub at Gunning, NSW]