Orang-utans are not the only fruit

At Twycross zoo, exasperated looking Gorillas sit behind cracked windows, on either side of which are signs, politely asking people to remain quiet and not tap on the glass, because “gorillas like to live in peace and quiet”. Now, obviously they can’t write: Shut your kids up or the 350lb silverback is likely to come through the window and crush them like McVities Digestives, but surely that should speak for itself. I mean, I’m sure all the other animals “like to live in peace and quiet”. The reason their enclosures are not sporting huge red & white signs, urging you to “shhh!”, is that Marmosets and Meerkats are not capable of turning toughened glass into confetti and your children into unfashionable pillowcases. Still, idiotic parents laugh as their children torment the colossal primate on the other side of this sub-standard partition. Inevitably, like leaving rejected X-Factor applicants in a locked room with a Simon Cowell Voodoo doll made of Rice Krispies; sooner or later there’s gonna be snap, crackle and pop… sponge, bucket and mop.

The chimps too, look depressed, the elephants positively suicidal, and though the baby orang-utan is rather cute, the adults are so obviously sulking it’s almost funny. One particular 34 year old orang-utan keeps sighing and banging her head on the glass, while the big male lies on the floor looking like a Wookie-skin rug. Hang a frozen smuggler on the back wall and the whole place would look like Jabba the Hutt’s apartment.

Yes, I know it's cute, but please don't pay to go and see it!

You see I hadn’t visited a zoo since I was a small child, and I hated them even then, but last week we had to choose 3 places out of a possible 5 to visit in Leicestershire and 2 of them would have bored my daughter to death in minutes. She has never seen a zoo, I thought. I’ll put up with it once, and then she’s done it and I need never return. Anyway… perhaps zoos have changed since I was a child. That seemed a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. It’s the 21st century after all. You can’t even scold a dog for chewing a cyclist these days without incurring the wrath of some animal protection organisation. Surely we’ve outgrown the need for entertainment at the expense of other species welfare?

It turns out I was wrong. Zoos are as gruesome as they always were, and they are still hiding behind arguments from a hundred years ago: Research… Education… Tourism… Conservation. I’ve heard them all and frankly, they’re bullshit. Behavioural research on captive animals almost certainly teaches us nothing about the behaviour of the species as a whole. Education is more effective and less damaging in the classroom, and revenue from zoo ticket sales is needed for the upkeep of the animals anyway. The “conservation” argument just doesn’t hold up. For a start, captive breeding programs do not have high success rates, and a lack of genetic diversity often means that, when they are successful, any offspring are plagued with health problems; I walked past at least three signs at Twycross the other day, each notifying the public of the death of a different baby animal. Moreover, speaking as one in constant awe of the freedom of flight, I have to ask what kind of conservation program seriously proposes that a disappearing species of bird spend their last days on Earth under a fucking roof! The WWF would hold me down and take turns twanging my berries with bungee cord if I kept a dolphin in my bath,
but no-one seems to bat an eyelid when someone cages a creature that can fly.

Zoos are for human entertainment. They can paint whatever they like on the signs outside, but inside, zoos teach people as much about conservation as the inside of the titular Jeanette Winterson novel teaches us about varying our grocery selection. If animal conservation is the goal, there are ways it
can be done without restricting the freedom of the animals to such a degree, or allowing spoiled, snot-nosed little kids to scream at them through the glass.

Those who think they know me would probably tell you that I don’t like animals but they are wrong. Animals are great. I would even go as far as to say that some of them are delicious, but I don’t see why we keep them as pets. I have dogs in my house. One is a servant of Lucifer, the other sounds
like a heavy man with a sinus problem, catapulting live piglets at a tyrannosaurus, through an electrified chain-link fence. Mostly when it eats, but still… it tends to put me off my Giraffe burgers. At any rate they are my partner’s pets. If it were up to me, none of us would keep animals at all.

Anyway… the scented air up here on my soapbox is making me hallucinate about Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, fighting Kellogg’s cereal mascots, so here are a few updates:

It was a fairly good week for the book; which received honourable mention in the Shelley Watters blog-hop competition I mentioned a few of weeks ago, along with a request to query literary agent, Victoria Marini, which I will certainly do once I’ve finished writing this post. See? Boring my blog
readers is more important to me than my career. Don’t you feel special?

Richard returns to the Sleepless Knight office tomorrow, so we’ll see what the next week produces in terms of creativity. He is my comedy muse, and one of my favourite people on the planet, but don’t tell him that. He takes enough of a back seat as it is, without thinking that all he has to do is turn up and wait for fame and fortune to arrive in a neatly wrapped box. Don’t worry; there is no danger of him learning about it through this post, because there is no danger of him reading this blog. Now shhhh… Richard likes to live in peace and quiet, so don’t tap on the screen.*

*Comment if you tapped on the screen.


3 comments on “Orang-utans are not the only fruit

  1. I must confess I had membership to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for 2 years running and I loved going there. I felt they were making a difference, in Madagascar in particular. So I hope my impression was correct.
    …And yes, I always feel special, in more ways than one!


    • Now… I just quickly checked out Durell Wildlife and, although their conditions were much, much better than Twycross, the first thing I came across was a report about the departure of their big Silverback; Ya Kwanza, and how his chosen mate, Hlala Kahilli, conceived 6 times. Of those 6 – 3 lasted only a few weeks, 1 was stillborn, and 1 died in 2007 at the age of four. Only one was reared succesfully.
      I mean, I’m sure they do some wonderful work, but that is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about.


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