We are able to see animals in their natural habitat through the incredible wildlife documentaries made by Sir David Attenborough and others, and if we have enough money can join (hopefully) sensitively managed tours to see them for ourselves.
So do we really need to keep a tiger in a glorified cage, albeit far bigger and more 'natural' than it might have been 50 years ago? Can we not enjoy watching animals through our TV screens, happy in the knowledge that they are content and in their rightful place?
There are of course problems in various parts of the world with the safety of animals in their natural habitats, and issues with animals which have been bred in captivity and never known freedom. Personally, I would far rather 100% of the money given to zoos every year be given to charities which work with animlas in situ, and used both to educate local peoples and to protect and develop the animals there.
Of course, I understand that breeding programmes have helped bring some animals back from the brink of extinction, and the specific education and training which takes place in zoos enables us to protect and help many species, but if the life they have to look forward to is one behind glass (the supposedly more acceptable version of bars), I'm not sure.
Last year we went to Woburn Safari Park, which was quite the most sensitively managed and beautifully arranged facility for captuive animals. I was so impressed with it, and hoped to feel the same about London Zoo, despite my general misgivings of the industry, as outlined above.
Lara is totally fascinated by penguins, and has been since she was about eight months old, so I'll admit it was wonderful for her to be able to see some in the flesh. She loved being able to watch them swimming under the water too, as my famous Silent Sunday picture showed!
Next stop was the flamingoes, which Lara loved, before she tried her hand at driving a keeper's jeep!
The prairie dogs were also popular with Lara, as she watches a programme about them on CBeebies sometimes, and loves their little 'bark'. They did have a large pen, open to the sky, and with lovely burrows to dive in and out of, but I still felt they would have been exploring far more space in the wild than they were being given here. The same was true of the now-ubiquitous meerkats.
The one part of the zoo I was impressed with was the new rainforest exhibit, which is a lovely large open space for the monkeys and sloths who live there, although even here some of them were enclosed in small glass cages, continually being peered in at. The freer monkey species did seem to be happy enough, and didn't show any signs of shedding fur or self-harming that I could see.
We did see many other animals, all miserably enclosed in their prisons, such as tigers, lions, giraffe, many bird species, including vultures in cages which would barely permit them flight, and most desperate of all, the poor gorillas, whose plight and obvious unhappiness actually made me cry.
Despite my lifelong misgivings about zoos, after our wonderful experience at Woburn last year, I had gone to ZSL with an open mind, expecting it to be a clean, well-managed, spacious environment where the animals are kept sensitively and humanely. It is not.
It badly needs a major overhaul, to provide better, bigger, cleaner pens for the poor animals incarcerated there, and in my opinion, if that can't happen it should be closed down. I was deeply disappointed by the experience, and came away feeling so sorry for the poor animals that live there.
I have subsequently seen a documentary about the Zoo and have seen how much the keepers care for their animals, but that is realy not the right place for them. ZSL clearly needs to follow the lead of Woburn Safari Park and other such better-run establishments. It is certainly not a zoo for the 21st Century, more like the 19th.
This image sums up the visit for me:
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