OK – did I just date myself?
I have to admit that I was one of those kids who knew all of the lyrics to “Richard Corey”, “Scarborough Fair”, and “Mrs. Robinson”. Saturday afternoons were filled with records being played on the Zenith while everyone sang and pitched-in to clean the house.
Hmmm, come to think of it, my siblings and I had some pretty impressive dance moves up there on the couch and footstool – brooms and dust cloths in hand.
Anyway, singing “It’s All Happening at the Zoo” at top of my lungs may or may not have had an impact upon my penchant for zoos, since I’ve always felt a deep connection to animals, the beautiful, and the vulnerable.
While some kids wanted to live in castles or on islands, or with their favorite grandmother, I just wanted to live in the Philadelphia Museum of Art or at the Philadelphia Zoo. Both, preferably.
That hasn’t happened – not yet, anyway - so I console myself by re-reading “The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”; by lingering in galleries and museums until the doors are being locked; by adopting an oh-so-needy and way-too-adorable homeless cat … or two … or more (four being the limit set by my more pragmatic half), and by visiting aquariums and zoos.
My most recent trip was to the Cincinnati Zoo. While its urban setting might restrict expansion beyond the original 65 acres (off-site locations notwithstanding), this is a zoo that is vibrant and dynamic and always evolving, as you can see on my photo-blog, Creatzart.com .
This level of excitement is due in no small part to Thane Maynard. Yes, that Thane Maynard of the 90-Second Naturalist. This guy is passionate, driven and brilliant. As the director of this historic zoo, Maynard has brought it into the 21st century with the installation of solar panels over the parking area; continually updated animal environments to allow a more natural feel and room for the animals to move, and under his watch, the launch of a very Green restaurant.
The conservation efforts of the Cincinnati Zoo have been tremendous and have resulted in substantial savings of water, gas, and electricity. The monies saved by these often simple measures have been reinvested into the husbandry of the animals, as well as into educational programs, special events and behind-the-scenes tutorials for enthusiastic visitors.
Certainly this ethical and responsible zoo is all about balance. Since opening the doors in 1875, the Zoo has protected wildlife and worked to secure their futures, while providing we non-safari folks with a peek into the breath-taking worlds of majestic animals and delicate flowers, normally found far beyond our own front doors.
An engaging conversation with a Hyacinth Macaw, or a restorative walk past the waterfall inside the lovely conservatory, or a study of the wildly diverse botanical garden, blend beautifully with the hard-core science taking place at C.R.E.W. (The Carl H. Lindner Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife) as experts in many fields pull their respective experiences, knowledge and genius together to stay the very real threat of extinction of many endangered animals and plants.
This is important work that impacts the long-term future not only of polar bears, African Violets and Sumatran rhinos, but also of humans, and ultimately the earth. As scientists and the general public learn more about the animals in captivity, that information can be utilized to save more and more animals in the wild.
Although my preference is for every animal to be free – to swim gracefully through ice-capped water, or to lounge beneath 110 degree sunshine – that isn’t reality. Human expansion and human exploitation have decimated vital resources including water, food,and available real estate.
Certainly horrendous “zoos” filled with miserable, forever-pacing, dull-eyed captives are still in existence, and that is repulsive. People who have no business owning an ant farm - much less a big cat or a bear – charge five bucks for tourists to pet a tiger cub or have their picture taken with a black bear. These animals are wild and were never meant to be severely confined and often ill-treated, existing only as props in a photo shoot.
Zoos like the Cincinnati Zoo are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Before visiting or supporting any zoo, look for this accreditation that demands each of its 218 member organizations retain professional staff, operate only under a strict code of ethics, and actively demonstrate a deep knowledge of and respect for animals.
Fortunately it’s possible to have an entertaining day at the zoo watching the otters glide underwater, or hearing the unexpectedly thunderous roar of a lion, or experiencing the breathtaking speed of a cheetah – all while supporting education, preservation and research.
As the summer cools into autumn, a trip to an AZA zoo or aquarium is a great choice for singles, families and couples. There is a lot going on for a reasonable price.
Since 1967, Mr. Simon and Mr. Garfunkel have known that everything happens at the zoo.
And I do believe it … I do believe it’s true.