Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The zoo needs you

Commentary : The zoo needs you

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: March 18, 2010

CHANCES ARE CHILDREN WHO SPEND AN AFternoon at the Manila Zoo will come home very disappointed. The animals they see there are not those they have seen on TV. The TV tigers, lions, rhinos, hippos, leopards and gorillas roared, threatened and frightened them. The animals in the Manila Zoo, with a few exceptions, sleep, huddle in corners or look at people accusingly as if to say, “Look at what you’ve done to us.” They don’t awe, amuse or frighten anyone.

If we are not careful to improve our zoos, we may raise a generation of young people who know only malls and have no interest in the beauty and mystery of animals and nature. What concern for the environment can we expect in a country if this interest is missing? The battle between the mall and the zoo for the soul of children may be the major struggle of the century.

It’s a sad experience to walk past the big-cat enclosures in the zoo. A number are empty as if the last representative of that specie has passed away. There is no lion, for example. In other enclosures it’s almost impossible to find the animal. We finally found the tiger lying or hiding motionless in a rundown lean-to that looked like the tiger had built it himself. We couldn’t make out his color or even where his head was. What child will be inspired by that sight?

Even the monkeys lie down on the job. They don’t run around and climb over things and tease one another as monkeys, especially young monkeys, usually do. There’s no one laughing at them. Did you ever imagine monkeys that weren’t funny?

The crocodiles lie covered with dirt on bare concrete, instead of sweeping back and forth menacingly in the water.

It’s sad to see that there is only one representative for some species. There is one zebra, all alone, far from Africa. There is one poor hippo, all alone, so sad she doesn’t worry about her weight anymore. And there’s a female elephant who lives just inside the main entrance. Every once in a while she appears from within the ruins where she lives, and walks around her enclosure hoping, it seems, that things have changed, that the bad times are over. Halfway through her walk she realizes that nothing has changed, and she hurries away.

Water would make a big difference. It’s sad to see the animals in dirty cages. Manila has just had its worst floods in 40 years; there must be water nearby. If the cages and animals were cleaned with water, and there were pools in the enclosures where the animals could relax from the heat, and water was regularly sprayed on the pathways and gardens, the zoo would seem altogether different.

We are punishing the animals and I suspect the children know that. The bad condition affects the way the animals act. The ostriches, for example, race back and forth in their small enclosure with looks of terror on their faces. They don’t seem to know anymore where they are.

Still there are good attractions: the birds, for one, the white and multi colored peacocks who bring an “ah” from the crowd when they spread out their tails; the sea eagles high up on the top branches, keeping an eye on everything; the storks and cranes walking around with their long bills down on their chests, as if figuring out some complicated problem, and taking long steps to avoid the pooh on the ground.

Is it a matter of money, or is it that no one cares? There are no signs on many cages. There was no one in the information booth even on the Sunday after Christmas when the zoo was crowded. There could be story tellers for the children, and young actors and actresses to put on skits about animals and tell the children the old animal tales from around the world.

There is one attempt to liven up the zoo life, but it’s hard to judge if it is successful. There is a so called “wishing croc” in one of the cages and people are encouraged to throw in coins and make a wish. The big croc doesn’t seem to notice. People throw the coins and some land on the croc’s back. There’s the problem: Who will go in and get the coins, especially those on the back of the crocodile? It must be 10-12 feet long with teeth like spikes along the side of its mouth.

Money is needed, but wouldn’t people and children contribute if some group of young people made the zoo their project?

Unless we want to hand our children over now to the bondage of the malls, we should do something to improve the best alternative: our zoos and parks.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is upa@pldtdsl.net

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