Mixed Feelings

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Tanzania twice and on each occasion have managed to incorporate a safari; to the amazing extinct volcanic crater of Ngorongoro on my first trip, but to Lake Manyara National Park both times.  Manyara may be lesser known, but it did have something in its favour; your proximity to the elephants.  I’ve no idea how many of the beasts can be found in the park at any one time, but on both of my visits it seemed as if we encountered them around every other corner.

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We own the road

Manyara was also the birthplace of one of my favourite wildlife TV presenters; Saba Douglas-Hamilton, whose father Iain was working there as a zoologist studying the elephants.  My limited kiswahili didn’t extend to numbers so it was only recently I learned that Saba means seven, for she is the 7th grandchild, born on the 7th day of June at 7.00pm.

She continues to live and work in Samburu, another nature reserve in eastern Africa, so you might expect her to be against keeping animals in captivity under any circumstances.  In fact on her website she says this:

…there are a few zoos that really do assist conservation. If they have a large enough space and a truly interesting natural environment then sometimes one has to accept that the animal is an ambassador for its species raising awareness and creating new champions to fight for its brethren in the wild. David Attenborough for example started his work through zoos, as did many other esteemed conservationists I know.

I don’t know where Dublin sits on the spectrum of good and bad zoos; I do know that on my recent visit I found some of the displays and facilities a little tired.  If that is true of the visitor, does it also hold true of the visited?  I don’t know, but it’s been an experience common to a number of zoos I’ve seen in the UK, so yes I do have concerns for the welfare of the creatures kept in them.  Most of these sites have Victorian origins when animal welfare wasn’t even on the radar.

And yet…

I also understand what she means when she uses the terms ambassador and champion.  No matter how innovative and skilful the BBC’s Natural History Unit become in their documentary series, there is still something fascinating about the human-like behaviour of fellow primates, the might of a big cat, the sub-aqua agility of a sea-lion, the grace of a moving giraffe that can only be experienced first hand.

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That’s my excuse for having such a great day at the zoo so I just hope my entrance fee does more good than harm.

Nothing beats the real thing though.

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