I despise zoos. Not the Cavendish-before-Xmas zoo or traffic-on-the-M5 zoo, but animal zoos.
The whole concept freaks me out. I can’t stand seeing creatures in cages. Even my pet snake and hamster both spent a lot of time outside, miraculously the former never eating the latter.
Then I went to Johannesburg Zoo last week with other zoo haters. It was a gorgeous day and we were in the area, so we tentatively approached what I’ve always regarded as the original den of inequity.
By the end of the day my perception, at least of Johannesburg Zoo, had altered somewhat. About 90% of the animals are endangered and the zoo is involved in breeding programmes that help repopulate species in the wild. Many of the enclosures are quite large and cleverly camouflaged so that you never feel like you’re looking at animals through bars.
It also gives kids and families who can’t afford a holiday to Kruger the chance to see and learn about animals. Of course it’s a skewed lesson – nothing compares to seeing a pride of lions in the wild – but it’s better than never seeing any, except on TV.
I got to see a polar bear, a spectacled bear, a cougar, lemurs, tigers, rhino, gorilla and an armadillo, which has got to be the weirdest fluke of evolution on the planet. The elephants made me sad though. No enclosure will ever be big enough for an ellie.
Still, it was a lovely way to spend a sunny Sunday. Strolling from one amazing creature to another, relaxing on the lawn with hotdogs and ice-cream while an array of birdlife flew around us and monkeys heckled in the distance.
If I lived in Joburg, I’d probably choose the zoo over Sandton. At least the animals are wearing their own fur.