As politically-incorrect as it might be, I love visiting zoos. There is something magical about being able to get up close-and-personal to some of the world’s wild creatures.
Ok – so they are not entirely wild creatures when they are held, and often born and bred, in captivity. I understand the arguments for and against zoos, arguments which have changed over time, and have led to changes in zoo design:
- Zoos as Jails (mid 19th to late 19th century)
- Zoos as Art Galleries OR the Modernist Movement (early to mid 20th century)
- Zoos as Conservation and Education Facilities
Modern zoos, with their focus on ethics and animal rights, are designed as much (perhaps more) for the comfort of their creatures than for the convenience of their visitors. And although, philosophically, I agree with this, I can’t help but think there is something ironic about being able to get better animal pictures in the wild!
These were some of my thoughts as I dragged the cameras across Sydney Harbour and around Taronga Zoo in Mosman in February, and along the roadways and pathways on the three kilometre stroll around the Taronga Western Plains Zoo outside Dubbo, in central New South Wales, earlier this month. On both visits, many of the animals took refuge away from prying eyes and lenses.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved the zoos themselves. Both the Tarongas are in killer locations.
Opened in 1916, the original Taronga Zoo is located on the shores of Sydney Harbour in the suburb of Mosman. The views across the harbour and over downtown Sydney are stunning. While we were there, a woman told me that the view from one particular spot was Heritage Listed, although I could later find no evidence – outside the view itself – for her claim.
Although it makes efficient use of its space and houses a lot of animals, the 52 acre Mosman site has no room for growth. The Western Plains Zoo was conceived in the 1960s as a facility to allow for the breeding of larger plains animals and to give grazing animals the room they need to roam. An old WWII army training camp in central NSW, about five and a half hours north-west of Sydney by car, was converted into 300 hectares (about 3 sq km) of irrigated grasslands and opened to the public as Australia’s first open-range zoo in 1977.
The little swamp wallaby, drinking cautiously from the pool, reminded me what a privilege it is to get so close to a wild creature.
For while it is true that we have seen many animals better in the wild, in their natural environments, there are many others that we haven’t. Even local animals, like the swamp wallaby, we are more likely to see dead at the side of a road, than drinking from a pool. And, habitats are shrinking the world over.
The 2012 Master Plan for Taronga Zoo and Taronga Western Plains Zoo includes the stated belief in a shared future for Wildlife and People.
Let’s hope it succeeds!
Photos: 21February2012 and 08October2012