Zoos are one of the biggest controversies between animal rights activists, educators, veterinarians, and scientists worldwide. Are they truly educational? Are we helping or hurting the endangered species? Are the animals receiving the rehabilitation they require? Is this ethical? Are the animals put under stress? Are we drastically changing their natural behaviors and natural habitats? Are the zoos mainly for pure human entertainment? These are a few of the many questions that come through my mind. I could go on.
Humans learn best from experiences and there is nothing truer than Sir Francis Bacon's philosophical words of, "knowledge is power." The last time I had stepped foot into a zoo, specifically Zoo Atlanta, I was 7 years young. My most vivid memory of that trip was a bird show in where there were two trainers at the opposite ends of the stage and the bird flew from one trainer to the other and so forth. One seemingly large bird, at least to a 7-year-old, refused to listen to the trainer and was essentially forced to fly. The bird landed on my baby cousin's head. I was shocked, horrified but couldn't get myself to be angry at the bird. The bird wasn't at fault. This is where my stigma with zoos had originated.
At 24-years-old, I once again stepped foot into Zoo Atlanta with the most judgement free, un-biased, and open minded state I could put myself in for the price of $25 with a student discount. My main concern and goal was to see what I could learn and gain from the experience itself. Is it educational from a young adults' perspective? What would my 7-year-old self learn this time around if I were to live through it again? I observed the animals, the conditions, my surroundings, and the people walking around the zoo on that fine sunny Wednesday afternoon.
The Chilean flamingos, native to the southern Andes Mountains, are the first animals to be seen when entering Zoo Atlanta.
The Chilean flamingos, as pictured above, personally made sense to have these animals at the forefront of the zoo as their brightly pink colored feathers quickly draws the human eye in. There's not much more to this exhibit beyond of what is pictured. The Chilean flamingo, like most flamingos, are social creatures and live in colonies up to thousands of birds including mixed species. They are at risk but even Zoo Atlanta admits that they can live up to 40 to 50 years in the zoo OR wild according to their facts next to the exhibit.
One of the two African elephants at Zoo Atlanta that guests can admire from afar or they can pay an additional $75 to "meet" the elephants and feed them.
The African elephants' drinking and bathing water.
The African elephants' attraction was not as big as I had imagined but maybe a portion to that is due because they have a themed elephant encounter that they sell separately. In this encounter, one is allowed to pet the elephants and feed them although I couldn't find anywhere or anyone to ask how long these encounters last for $75. The water in their exhibit was murky and the second elephant was nowhere to be seen.
The Black rhino, native to Southern and Eastern Africa, is alone in its exhibit.
One of the many signs around Zoo Atlanta to promote their social media outlets.
I found the Black rhino exhibit ironic. As the audience or guest, we learn that Black rhinos can run up to 30 miles per hour but there is no way that the rhino in the exhibit will ever get to experience that as it doesn't have much free land to roam in. It seemed like they were more concerned about free advertising through social media. I counted at least five similar signs throughout the zoo.
The sign reads, "Giraffes off exhibit due to weather conditions."
I could not tell you how many giraffes Zoo Atlanta has as they were put away to due to weather conditions according to the sign. The weather had been perfect without a cloud in the sky. When I purchased my ticket, I was not made aware that the giraffes were not going to be at the exhibit. When finally making it to the giraffe section, they were given a large area including a large terrace called "Twiga Terrace" where one can feed the giraffes lettuce sold there for $3. As a part of their website's viewing hints on giraffes they state: "The giraffes may generally be seen except in cases of rainy or cold weather. For their safety, during rain or on days following a heavy rain, our giraffes will not be in their habitats."
A Slender-tailed meerkat, native to Southern Africa, away from the rest of the other meerkats in the exhibit.
One of the many speakers around Zoo Atlanta making wildlife noises of the animals that are already at the zoo.
I did not expect the zoo to be so quiet. The only sounds I could hear were neighboring conversations, younger kids trying to get the animals' attention, and the speakers around the zoo imitating wildlife. I would hear a lion roar near the lion exhibit but no lions would actually roaring once you'd made it around the corner.
The Sumatran tiger, native to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, pacing back and forth in a distance of about 8ft.
I took multiple pictures of the Sumatran tiger and this was the best shot I managed. I observed the tiger for 20 minutes and it kept pacing back and forth in a distance of about 8 ft. even though his enclosure was much larger. Pacing back and forth in animals is a way they cope with stress. I came back to the tiger after being done with the other exhibits and it was still pacing in the same spot when I had left him.
Some of the many sponsors Zoo Atlanta has, this sign is specifically for the reptile and amphibian exhibits.
Zoo Atlanta advertises themselves as a private, non-profit and has over hundreds of sponsors including Delta airlines, Coca-Cola, and the Arthur Blank foundation. According to Charity Navigator, Zoo Atlanta made a profit of approximately 9 million dollars in 2015.
Ya Lun and Xi Lun, the only twin giant pandas in the United States.
Ya Lun and Xi Lun, the famous giant panda twins who are only 6 months old, are the two last main attractions. The parents, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, are a loan from China to Zoo Atlanta. Under this loan, any cubs born from the set of parents must be returned to China before they reach the age of four. According to the Washington Post and other news sources, the most recent set of twins, Mei Lun and Mei Huan, are struggling to adapt to the language and food in China.
Part of a mural halfway between Zoo Atlanta.
Another part of the mural located halfway through Zoo Atlanta.
These signs randomly placed in the zoo seemed very odd to me. Again, they are ironic and can be interpreted in two separate ways. "Animals are sold and traded everywhere in the world" can be understood as we are helping the animals and preventing them from being sold and traded. It can also be understood as it is okay for us to sell and trade animals as it is being done around the world. "Some animals' lives are very different from those you see in the Zoo" is also up for interpretation as some animals' lives will be vastly better in the wild but also vastly worse if they are hunted down and poached.
Yang Yang, the father of the giant panda twins, munching on bamboo.
I left Zoo Atlanta dispirited and in hopes that it would have proven me wrong. No matter how long you stare at the animals or how many many pictures you take, it doesn't teach anyone about conservation. Sure, there are a few guidebooks and fun facts spread around but what does that tell us about their natural behavior? Their natural habitat? Their essential role in the ecosystem? If anything, I found it to be a bit confusing to children. Lets keep animals captivated so we can learn? What are we learning? The animals were not lively, not amused, and not roaming freely. I think my 7-year-old self would have been entertained for a second and then would have asked a thousand questions my parents couldn't answer. My 7-year-old self would also be very relieved of the terminated bird shows.
Created and photographed by: Montserrat Montecinos
No gorillas, or other animals, were harmed in the making of this photograph.
In loving memory of Willie B.