The vet told us a few days ago that our beagle is overweight. Not surprising, especially as we haven’t been able to go camping in weeks. The beagle and the foxhound always go for walkies when we’re camping, and from June through November, when the trails are clear and usually not muddy, we do quite a bit of hiking. It keeps all of us in better shape. We’ve decided that, until the state parks are open again, we’ll start walking the dogs across the bridge that runs behind our house. The span is some 3,000 feet long, and overlooks the valley where the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is situated—in the summer, we can hear the seals barking and the lions roaring. At the center of the west side of the bridge, one can look down and see the new tiger habitat, the camel yard, and the seal and sea lion pool. At the southern end of the bridge, the Metroparks has created a small park and cleared a bit of the wooded area to make an overlook.
As we were on the return leg of today’s walk, we paused to see what we could see of the zoo animals. Turns out one of the tigers was padding around his area, and there were two horses grazing in the camel pen. My husband said, “Wow. The animals are out, and the humans are locked up.” I had to laugh, but then I thought about his observation, and it struck me that in a way, the situation is poetic justice.
All my growing-up and many of my adult years, I hated zoos, abhorred the thought of animals in cages, when it was their right to roam free in their natural environments. When we bought our house all those years ago, I wasn’t eager to go to the Metroparks Zoo, though it was a stone’s throw away. But my husband wanted to go to the Rainforest, a fairly new addition at the time, so we went. I was impressed with the animal exhibits and with the educational material provided. I realized that many of the displays were geared toward giving children an appreciation of wildlife and ecosystems, which is an absolute good. I also discovered that our zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan, which is an ongoing, worldwide project focusing on saving endangered species, conserving genetic diversity as much as possible. SSP is another absolute good. Finally, some species’ only hope of survival is in the protected spaces of zoos, because there are too many greedy, selfish humans who hunt them. Caging some animals who are meant to be wild, then, is a necessary evil for the time being. And it’s true that zoos are enlarging habitats, making them as natural as possible, and providing enrichment programs. It’s my hope that humans will become wiser in the distant future, and wild animals will all be wild again. For now, I relish the irony that for once, people are confined. Now we can empathize with the tigers pacing behind their fences for hours, with nowhere to go.
As we finished our walk, the barrel-shaped beagle in the lead, I appreciated the balmy weather, and thought about the fact that we could at least get out, even if by ourselves, and enjoy a short escape from the house on an eerily quiet Easter afternoon.