The L.A. Zoo

The day after seeing Chimpanzee, my family went to the Los Angeles Zoo.

Wow, was that emotional punishment.

My wife and I have never been on the same page regarding animal rights until now. In the past, I’ve challenged her with opposing viewpoints regarding the safety and security zoos provide endangered species – I am all for education and protection from other humans; namely hunters and poachers. I have the ability to honor my wife’s strong beliefs yet I try to remain open-minded and ask, “What else is out there and are they correct?”.

As a kid, I remember being totally excited to see these rare and fascinating animals up close. I loved watching the trainers showcase the animal’s talents and abilities. To experience this today feels degrading and unfair. Why do zoos put on these “shows” for human entertainment? How selfish of a people are we?

Don’t answer that.

On our brisk walk around the park, my ears changed, my vision evolved and I felt guilty.

I transformed into a subdued zombie as we passed other excited families with their kids. I heard conversations about the animals as if they were rides at Disneyland or a dish on a menu. I overheard a man questioning an employee, “Do you have any Macaws? What type of birds do you have?”, as if the birds were a dinner special.

I understand why people visit the zoo. I totally get it. Now that I’m a father and I have a human of my own to keep alive and happy, I just don’t understand the way zoos do it.

We made it up to the chimpanzees and when I looked into the eyes of these two chimps I saw by the glass, they looked mentally tranquilized, asleep, sad and bored. Maybe it was an off-day, an off-hour, or an off-minute when I captured the photos in what appeared to be a state of disdain. Compared to the chimps in Chimpanzee, their eyes looked defeated and depressed.

People have a natural ability to discover emotional information about someone when you look them in the eye. How well can you read people? Chimpanzee species are the closest living relatives to humans. Research by Mary-Claire King in 1973 found 99% identical DNA between human beings and chimpanzees, although research since has modified that finding to about 94% commonality, with some of the difference occurring in non-coding DNA. Basically they’re not a soulless cat without eyelashes and a cold-stare of death.

The animals at the L.A. Zoo have roughly the same amount of simulated habitat as there is allocated for abandoned picnic areas, showgrounds, rides, concessions, and shops. I don’t even think Disneyland has a ratio of 1:1 given their real estate. It was heartbreaking to see an endangered animal like the siamang living in the same amount of space as a garage.

I think there’s a better way to view animals safely. I just don’t know what that is and I wish I had the answer. Maybe it’s more space for the animals… maybe it’s handling fewer animals like the Santa Barbara Zoo.

What I do know is we can’t bring ourselves to visit the L.A. Zoo again.

What do I tell my daughter about zoos? What advice do you have?