Yesterday we took the kids to the São Paulo Zoo. It's been several years since I have been there--last time the kids were in a double stroller. It is a huge place with many open areas for the animals and beautiful large trees and a wide lake. As zoos go, it's a pretty one.
The entrance was chaos (see photo below). Hundreds of people, cash only lines and a confusion about student ticket prices. We went over to an Itau Bank client line to get a 50% discount off the cardholder's price. But they would not give us the 50% discount for my stepson, who is a medical student. By Brazilian law, students must be offered a "meia-entrada" or half-price ticket as long as they have ID. My husband got more than a little upset with the ticket seller and they sent over someone to resolve the situation. It was unresolved in the end. Imagina na Copa!! Imagine how this would be during the World Cup--more people, no English, no credit cards. Good luck with that.
We walked around to see the tiger (sleeping), bear (sleeping), giraffes (eating) and rhinos (standing around like rhinos do). And then I saw the elephant. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am crazy about elephants. It's a matriarchal society where the elephants care deeply for their families and are intensely social animals. With all the ivory poaching now, it is common to hear of elephants, young and old, mourning their families for days, weeks, years. Young elephants will actually die of sadness. Yet this one elephant was alone. Alone in an open pen. No trees for shade, just red dust. Did you know that elephants get sunburned? They do. They throw dust on themselves for sunscreen. At least there was a lot of dust. We passed the elephant three times: every time he/she was at the far end of the pen rubbing and rubbing his/her trunk on the wall. Driven crazy by loneliness, I think.
I said to my husband that I don't know when zoos became sad places for me. I look into the eyes of my 6 year old kids and they see only the pleasure of enormous animals seen in "real life". They scream with delight at the caged macaws, the blanketed orangutan, the gazelles on the tiny plain. One told me that he didn't think we need to go to Africa any more in October, because we had already seen "all" of the animals. These dusty, lonely, caged animals. The lioness who paced back and force the 10 meters of her mountain pen. This is how my kids will think of African animals? I think not.
What to do about the zoo? How can kids understand the size and importance of these animals without them? How can I help a lonely elephant? I can only hope it is male--they are much less social than the females. I am not going to try to find out--I don't want to know.
Will it be my last visit to the zoo? No. And I will try to play along with my kids' happy wonder. We go to the zoo in the US, too, by the way, and my feelings are similar though I understand many zoos are working with conservation and education and doing their best for the animals rescued or born in captivity.
Imagina na Copa!