Zoos evoke in me a strong mixture of emotions–empathy for caged animals whilst grateful for the chance to gawk at their beauty. Despite this push-pull-me dilemma, I have visited a number of zoos this past year.
No denying this: there is marvel when viewing exotics in the city.
But I am also left wondering what happens when the lights go off, when the sky goes dark and an urban hum encases their surrounds? Do animals startle when a bicyclist skims by an adjacent path at midnight? Are the penguins immune to such intrusive, human calamity and just hang out in the dark?
The Dublin Zoo was on the cards last summer. If anyone has ever ventured into the fabulously-expansive Phoenix Park then they will understand what a treasured inner-city gem this enormous space is: a whopping 1,750 acres.
I got dragged to this zoo with one of my dearest friends and expected to again feel a deep-down unsettling feeling about these animals in captivity. I was prepared to grin and bearI adore giraffes but would I want to see them frolicking within half a mile of the Guinness factory?
What I did experience at the Dublin Zoo was fauna-design brilliance—true beautiful landscape with glorious banks of plants and trees, a large lake and the remarkable feeling that I was far from Ireland. Somewhere tropical, somewhere lush, plants selected with purpose and authentic impact in mind.
Yes, I did stare long and hard at two lovely gorillas. I hoped that telepathically they would sense my condolences for being housed behind Perspex for the enjoyment of gaggles of children and grown-up children all seemingly stuffing 99 ice-creams in their gobs. Sometimes the gorillas locked eyes with my own, but I don’t think they got the message. Heck—most humans find it difficult to understand me let alone wishing monkey-folk possess a speck of ESP.
But I was entranced by the glorious giraffes, entrusting to poke their heads a metre away from me and curl their black tongues around branches of the nearby tree. Their own space was a vast area where they frolicked within their pack and said hello to the rhinos. I’m not sure they were that mad about sharing space with a beady-eyed ostriches but, hey, we all have to put up with less ideal neighbours.
I felt similarly when visiting London Zoo twice recently.
I do think of those animals when I’m not at the zoo. Usually when I can’t sleep, which is often. Do the birds tweet away all night? Is it a happy tune? How would I know it’s not a cry for help?
So, perhaps at night, when the floodlights are cut and the keepers head to the pub, all those animals are doing a dance. Or perhaps the bears are debating politics or a ferret is telling a lemur: ‘You’ll never believe what I heard today from some stupid bloke in an I heart London hat today.’ To which the pig shouts over: ‘I love it when the kids visit!’ Then they all nod in agreement.
Too whimsical a scenario to wish for?
What I do know is that I love taking photos of these animals. They are majestic and kind subjects. They are naturals for the camera. I’m not keen on the fencing but I do feel agog at their expressions, like this opaki.
Tonight I will think of them again. I’ll think about the giraffes in Phoenix Park poking their heads above the trees and staring down towards the Dublin quays that span the Liffey. Perhaps they will then confer about the changes in Ireland since the Celtic Tiger came and went, or how this month’s election is a shocker.
Perhaps the bolder giraffes may even sneak out for a wee pint then return before daylight, the zookeepers none the wiser.
To sleep, perchance to dream.