Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Image meets reality at Henry Vilas Zoo
The sign shows an image of the proud King of Beasts. The real lion looks old and tired and a bit sad, although happy just to catch a bit of sun in his small fenced-in area. Does he really need to be there?
I know the large zoos with lots of acreage play an important role in species preservation -- and they have room to let the animals roam a bit. But I hope that smaller zoos like Madison's eventually are able to relinquish the role of exhibiting big cats and other large wild animals. The facilities of the Henry Vilas Zoo have improved impressively over the years, and the zoo's dedicated staff does the best they can. But little kids would be just as happy if the cats were replaced by farm animals and an expanded petting zoo. The rest of us, or at least many of us, could breathe a sigh of relief.
Bringing back exotic living trophies from the far corners of the world for display in zoos began on a large scale during the colonial era. Once upon a time, before films and television existed, the practice could be defended as educational. Today, a National Geographic special is far more educational than a trip to the zoo. Let's start thinking outside the box in regard to the role of smaller zoos. And, in the case of the free-ranging larger species who need room to live their lives, it wouldn't hurt to get rid of the confining box altogether.