Monday we took advantage of the Labor Day holiday, ignored the blistering heat, and made the short journey down Los Feliz Boulevard to the L.A. Zoo
. Construction has closed off huge chunks of exhibits, most notably the gorilla enclosure, but there were still plenty o' captive animals to ogle. The grounds of the zoo itself (which is more properly known as the Los Angeles Zoo and
Botanical Gardens) are actually quite nice, with shaded walkways that wind along the hills on the east side of Griffith Park.
We checked out Destination: Dinosaur
, which was a pretty decent collection of animatronic
dino's clicking and whirring away in a well air-conditioned recreation of a prehistoric rain forest setting. We chuckled at the antics of a kangaroo and her rambunctious joey. We gazed at a huge alligator and discussed (briefly) how quickly he could make a meal of us. We trudged along under the unblinking eye of the sun, pouring bottled water down our throats. We were having a good time.
And then we came to the chimpanzee enclosure, where a dejected looking troop of chimps sat on a rock while another set of primates sat on benches and pointed and stared. Now, here's where a nagging sense of guilt began to creep into the proceedings.
For the record, I think the perfect habitat for most animals can be described thusly: Unlimited food and a total absence of predators. The zebra, for instance, toils not, and neither does he spin, as long as he's got plenty of hay and doesn't have to worry about a lion creeping up on him while he ruminates. And where can this trouble-free existence play out? In a zoo. This goes for many of the animals at the zoo. Let's face it, most animals (and some people) aspire to nothing more than survival and reproduction, and the zoo provides them with that opportunity, not to mention better health care than many Americans.
But looking at those chimps, with their hunched shoulders and drooping heads, gave me the familiar feeling (which keeps me away from Sea World and it's trained cetaceans
) that some creatures should not be held captive. I tell myself that chimps are endangered
in the wild, that this captive population may one day be key to the survival of their species. And who knows what chimps really feel? Our tendency to anthropomorphize
animals can muddy our thinking on the matter, and the question of just how aware our furry friends are is hotly debated
, to say the least.
And yet, watching the body language of our close cousins, I can't help but produce my own interpretation of their emotional state. The downcast eyes, the bowed heads, the demoralized demeanor, all say to me that these chimps are not happy, that they resent being stared at, that they do want out of their captivity, even if they have only the dimmest conception of "freedom". Maybe chimps can't quite put their finger on what's bothering them in the abstract way a human can, but they seem to know what they like, and captivity ain't it.