Life at a Glance...Emperor Valley Zoo
I visited the Emperor Valley Zoo recently for the first time in many years. I remember my past visits to have been enjoyable, because it was always in good company, and it's always a pleasure to see the animals, but it's never without a certain amount of sadness. I am too empathic, that is, I feel too darn much. I think this may be why I took so long to visit, and also why it took me so long after that visit to write this post. Over the last couple years, there have been several new species of animals brought to the zoo, including Bengal tigers, African lionesses, giraffes (Mandela and Melman), and llamas. Every time I heard about one of these new additions, I half-heartedly commented about needing to visit without any real intention. One of the reasons I love this blog is that it forces me to stop procrastinating, and actually do what I say I want to do.
I visited on a regular Wednesday when I was on vacation, and it was not very busy. We saw at least three school excursions on that day, but even though we lined up behind one of these for the giraffe feeding, it did not result in any lengthy wait. So, I don't think that anytime is really a bad time to visit. It would always be less crowded during the week, as opposed to weekends and when school's out, but I don't think even at those peak times, it would make for such a crowded experience that it should be a deterrent. It was a humid day when we visited, being hot, with some drizzles to sun popping out at full intensity again, so always be cognizant of the weather to dress appropriately to be as comfortable as possible.
From the time I walked in, the first stop was the information area to confirm the times of the Giraffe and Llama feedings, as this is what I was most interested in doing on that day. Once we got the times, we noted them, and took a long glance at the map to ensure we knew the general direction of those areas. Oh, and we took a pic of it as well because we're in that wonderful age of digital technology which makes our lives so much easier. However, there were also several maps at different locations in the zoo, so you’re covered.
So, let me just say that I don’t believe animals should live their life in cages, and worse, in many cases in complete solitude. So, why did I visit? Isn’t it hypocritical of me to visit and by extension support something I think should not exist? Yeah…it probably is, and it’s one of those things that I accept as just not that clear cut and black and white. Zoo means visiting animals which should mean yay right? Or if you’re a ‘true’ animal lover, it should mean blasphemy? To me…it’s somewhere in between, and my emotions vary on each end of the spectrum from happy to depressed based on individual situations. So, to explain my experience, I just thought it best to give a summary of my highs and lows.
1) Feeding and petting the llamas - I've never seen a llama before this visit, except in pictures and I've always been fascinated with them. I mean...look at the pics. They are just adorable. The feeding also wasn't expensive, and it was one on one. It lasted longer that the giraffe feeding because you got a bowl of llama chow as opposed to two giraffe treats and your time with them was only done when the bowl was finished. I got to feed Oreo, that adorable black with hints of white llama, who the llama handler noted beforehand would like me because he liked women. How adorable! Also, she encouraged me to pet him during the feeding, so it was a truly interactive experience that I enjoyed immensely.
2) Watching the otters swim – The otters had a reasonably sized, well designed (I think) habitat that was a pretty cool setup. You got to see them above water, and then you could go down a level, and sit on a bench directly in front of the habitat and watch them swimming underwater. It was really relaxing, and fun to see, so that that was a definite highlight for me.
3) Feeding the giraffes - This may have been #1 or #2 if not for the fact that it was too short an interaction to really be considered an experience. You walked up to the giraffes with the treats you bought from the cafeteria (not expensive - about $20 I think for a pack of two treats), and then you opened your hand and let them take it. This process generally takes a few seconds and then you're done. Now, to be fair, the zoo handlers weren't rushing you, but unlike at the llama feeding where they encouraged you to interact, this wasn't the case, and with a line behind you, I guess it's difficult to not feel rushed. This might also have ranked higher if I could stop remembering an awful documentary I saw on poachers who hunted giraffes, so while I'll spare you the specific graphic images that I can't get rid of even now, every time I saw these beautiful creatures, that's what was on my mind...how very evil people are in this world. So, you can understand how that would spoil anybody’s mood.
Giraffe’s tongues are black to prevent them from getting sunburnt because they stick them out that much…and they’re super long with the average length being 20 inches.
4) The flamingos - This was the first exhibit (and I say exhibit because all the animals are essentially just on display, and also because of the sheer beauty exhibited). Based on research, and this can be easily seen by observing them in the zoo, flamingos are very social creatures. There needs to be a sufficient number of them in a sufficiently large space for them to thrive. They also need to be properly fed, as they can only retain their beautiful colours of reds, pinks and oranges if fed the right pigmentation. In the wild this is done through beta carotene in their diet, while in captivity it is done through pellets. There were a decent number of flamingos in the enclosure, so I guess the social aspect was covered, and their colours were very vibrant, so I'm also going to assume that they are well fed the necessary diet.
It has been shown that some animals in the wild live longer in captivity than in the wild. Flamingos live up to fifty years in captivity, as compared to 25-30 in the wild. So, maybe they aren't miserable because I truly believe that misery leads to health problems which lead to a shorter lifespan. Also, I just really want to believe that they're happy, even if they're not free.
5) The company - It always adds to an experience to share it with someone, to have someone present who you can speak freely with, and have stimulating discussions. Also, having someone who remembers to take pictures for the blog that I might write at a later date is a huge bonus. Thanks for the pics babe!
1) The birds in the cages - It's akin to a human being with perfectly functioning legs being forced to only sit when you have the potential to walk, run, do sports, etc. These are creatures with the ability to fly, yet they're caged, denying them that opportunity. Being in captivity is one thing, but being in a tiny cage where they cannot truly spread their wings and fly beyond maybe a metre? Heartbreaking. This was the reality for most of the birds at the zoo.
***Exception - we did see an owl that had been rescued, and because of the injuries sustained could not be released back into the wild. For this reason, it is kept at the zoo, as a sort of mascot I think the sign said. This is what I like about zoos, the rehabilitation and helping animals part.
2) The tigers and lions in the cages - Small, concrete cages in solitude for these huge beasts that were meant to roam miles in a day, to run, hunt, and raise families. A lot of these animals are actually bred in other zoos for the sole purpose of being given/sold (not sure how it works) to other zoos. So, while they may not know another life, it doesn't make their life in a tiny cage any more forgivable.
***There were several signs noting that there were enclosures under renovation (lion's den, etc.), so hopefully it will be a considerable improvement to present circumstances.
3) The aquarium - There are pet shops, or even restaurants with aquariums that are bigger and allow the fish more space. It's really very dated and dark, and the displays just lack creativity, and are just not very well displayed at all.
4) The snake den - I'm very, very afraid of snakes. I try not to think about them, but if I do, it also can't be fair that just because they are capable of coiling their bodies, this means that their cages are so small that it's impossible for them to fully stretch out. I mean most of these snakes are massive and take up the majority of their cages without moving.
Do I think zoos are all bad? No. I think zoos play an important and integral part in education and conservation. But…how effectively they perform this role varies with each, and it's highly debatable. I know that they need those popular, rare animals such as the tigers, giraffes, etc. to draw the crowd, but is it truly worth it? Can't they figure out their capacity and budgets to house fewer animals but let them each have a better standard of living. Better is again subjective, as it will not necessarily be good, as it's still in captivity, but we need to start the process of change somewhere. Some people might argue that it's better for them to be in captivity than in the wild hunted and killed. Let me again draw a human comparison. Would you rather be ripped from your family and spend your life in jail for a crime you didn't commit, or stay free and maybe get into a car accident, or worse, be the victim of a crime. I'd choose the latter thanks, because it might or might not happen, and if it did happen, I would have been free and happy prior, with the chance to recover and be free and happy subsequently. Of course I support the conservation initiatives and in the areas of high poaching or where the animals are found wounded and taken to the sanctuary to heal, as in the case of the owl. I think there should be more of this being done. Now, this is just my view as a visitor to the zoo. There may be a lot more of this work that is currently done that I am just not aware of, and I really do hope that's the case.
Maybe zoos should focus on their local animals, and have high-tech educational programmes as part of the zoo visit for the more exotic animals so that people get the knowledge, without the actual exploitation of the animals. They can partner with different conservation groups, animal sanctuaries, etc. and facilitate the easy adoption of these animals. For example, if you choose to adopt an elephant from Asia/Africa, you pay a one off or regular sum to care for a specific elephant at one of these places, and in turn you get details about the animal in the form of the name, age, history, pictures, and regular email updates, etc. so you're aware of the progress of your new family member. This is an amazing way for persons to get involved, become more knowledgeable, and make an actual difference in ensuring the future of these animals on our planet. They can even partner with a travel agency to provide information on trips to these locations for interested persons to see these animals they claim to love in their natural habitat, the only place they belong.
Tips for visiting:
- Wear cool clothes
- Wear comfortable footwear, even though it's not a huge zoo like some other places, if you truly want to explore everything, or most, there'll be considerable walking.
- Go to the information centre (at the front) and determine the times of the feedings/any other attractions that day, so you can plan your visit around these happenings.
- Feed your inner kid, and your overheated body, and have a lolly.
- Stay hydrated - drink enough water.
- If you want good pictures while you're feeding the animals, then you and your partner (if it's only a party of two) may want to stagger the times you go if you both plan on taking part. e.g. you can go first and your partner can go third, so you guys have time to switch roles while the person second in line is doing their thing. I wish I had done this at the zoo. I would actually have some better pics now. Nothing like hindsight right, but no worries, it's good to note for future outings of the sort.
Will I visit again? Yes. Do I encourage you to visit? Yes. I believe that change starts with us, and the animals are here, and zoos as noted before aren't all bad. I think they're key to introducing your kids to animals, and you're responsible for the message you impart, that is, being kind to animals, and maybe skew the story for the kids’ sake to just mean that they were saved which is the reason they live here now, but they really belong in the wild. The zoo is an amazing opportunity for you to expand your child's (and your own) view of the world, from different animals and different countries, to climate, customs, culture. It can be the start of many discussions on that day and many to come. It's also a reminder to you that the world is both cruel and beautiful, and we should be constantly striving to add to the beauty, and stop the cruelty.
Have you been to the Emperor Valley Zoo?
What other zoos have you been to?
What are your thoughts?
Let me know. Leave a comment, so we can start a discussion, and share so others can join in as well.
Also, be sure to follow me on social media, especially Instagram @sashamoons. I'll be sharing some pretty cool videos from this visit.
Light and love always!