Yesterday we went to the Cologne Zoo. It was one of those days that fill you with thoughts and feelings and infinite sadness and I wanted to share it with you…
I think that you have to be a hard-ass and totally unaware of what happens around you, to survive a day at the Zoo with a cheerful disposition. And I don’t mean the conditions in which the animals live. The Cologne Zoo might be the best zoo I have ever seen in terms of the space the animals have, cleanliness and general physical wellbeing of the animals. They seem to be doing well enough to reproduce in steady numbers.
The problem was that I was confronted with intelligent beings who are basically imprisoned. Yes, I was shocked by their intelligence, their sadness and even humor. How can we not see that? They know they are caged, some even know it is slave labor that they do in exchange for safety and food. They deal with this each in their own way. The cheetahs, totally aware of humans taking pictures – including myself – walked to the front of their confined area, climbed on a tree trunk each and took a grandiose shit in front of everyone, as if to say “this is what I think of all this!” I spent a long time at the seals – an animal I just adore – videotaping them amongst screaming children who where luckily more interested in the penguins nearby and didn’t stick around for long. One of the seals noticed that I was taking pictures and made the funniest faces for my sake, while previously she would just swim around and never stopped for long. While I was leaving she looked at me in the eyes, then I was sure she knew… But the most powerful experience was at the gorilla house. One of them, when he saw groups of kids walking by he would angrily hit the glass with both arms like saying “back off”! He did that a number of times obviously pissed off at the human presence… There was this big gorilla though, whose gaze was so human, it kicked my ass. He was like the elder of the tribe who knows that the future is dark, understands the humiliation of his kind and knows he cannot do anything about it. He sat in a corner while I videotaped him. He had this annoyed look but was still posing for it. I’ve seen him do this before, but he will look you in the eyes while he does it. He wants you to know that he is aware… He came closer to check me out. I looked him in the eyes too, not through the camera lens. I wanted him to know I knew too… Then a bunch of kids came and started screaming and making fun of him. He looked at every one of them pissed off, and then looked at me saying “do you see what I have to put up with?” After a while I left, went on looking at the other primates. For some reason I came back in his direction. He was at the same spot and nodded at me when he saw me. I was overwhelmed with rage over human arrogance… There are more stories that made me think and even laugh, like the sea lion who slapped his trainer’s ass continuously when he wanted more fish. Just a little reminder that he would not be bossed around just like that….
So, what about the two-legged animals that filled the zoo? The zoo was full of groups of children. Nothing against the fact itself. But for me a visit at the zoo should be a pilgrimage for all of us and we should teach this to our children. In a few years that may the last little piece of nature left. Instead, most adults find the zoo as an easy solution to spend a day with the children without having to put much effort into it. You just let them loose and they will entertain themselves. The result is big and smaller groups of screaming kids running around annoying the hell out of the animals. Not only that, they will even mock and humiliate some of them from the safe distance and protection that cages and glass walls give. Some throw stuff at the animals. I am waiting for the day that I will see adults accompanying their children solemnly and will explain to them that these are intelligent beings who are in extinction because of US! And that in return we imprisoned them to preserve a few of them in order to teach our children about what they missed out on. Because there was a time when there were still forests and steppes and open spaces where these animals could live but not anymore. That’s why we made these glass houses for them to keep them safe. These are their houses and we are allowed to come in a few hours a day to learn and pay respects to these awesome creatures and we have to do so respectfully, just like we would expect a guest to do at our house.
Instead what I saw yesterday was a bunch of spoiled kids who think that they are the center of the universe and that they can do whatever they want. Parents today must feel guilty for the world they delivered to their kids, for the fact that they have to grow up caged themselves, because the world is too dangerous and too filthy for them to play outside so they compensate by letting them do whatever they want in their confinement. They don’t teach them respect, on the one hand because they don’t know the meaning of the word themselves and on the other because they think that their children are too stupid to understand… So the kids get the message that animals are stupid and not aware of their situation and that they are there for our entertainment. I dread the future that these kids will create when they become adults…. The whole time we were at the zoo I was having fantasies of a human zoo where animals would come to visit and mock US. That will be the day!