Videos in this post may not be pleasant/safe for work.
On a recent trip to Kaliningrad, I paid a visit to the city zoo. To say that Kaliningrad Zoo shocked me doesn’t cover the emotion that I felt. I can lay no claim to expertise in animal welfare or conservation, and so therefore cannot write with any true authority upon the matter, but I feel the necessity of sharing what I saw there. Let me state first that I do not accuse the staff of Kaliningrad Zoo of anything; nor do I presume that I am so perceptive as to fully understand the normal working conditions of a zoo, or any of the needs of the animals. I have been informed that similar conditions are to be found in British zoos (whether this is true or not, I cannot truthfully say) – a claim which shocked me further, as to think that such conditions which I considered to be abhorrent are standard for zoos and expected as normal either betrays a deeper level of ignorance on my part, or shows that zoos still do not live up to the childhood myth.
Kaliningrad Zoo is not the most miserable place on earth. In no way do I wish to imply any wilful mistreatment or neglect of the animals under the care of the staff of the zoo. From my understanding, the staff there have long struggled against financial problems, and have on occasion had to resort to feeding the animals out of their own cupboards. For this nobility and dedication to the care of their animals, they deserve applause. Fortunately, in recent years, the zoo has recieved sponsorship from various companies, which has gone some way to help with their financial problems – although exactly how far, I cannot say. Others have noted poor conditions there – for example, an elephant at the zoo, Pregolja, was briefly the subject of international attention when news of her cramped living conditions became widely known. An appeal was launched for her removal from the zoo, but to no avail. I don’t know whether conditions are the same now as then (certainly, a further public appeal for aid proved fruitful), but they still don’t look pleasant.
Again, I must reiterate that I could be mistaken about things – but, I must say, the zoo really shocked and disturbed me. Maybe I’m soft, but seeing animals in such conditions isn’t pleasant to me in the slightest. When I saw the bears standing, waving, and posing for the crowd, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the animals (so many of which approach anybody who stands near their cage) have been conditioned so that they are not, in fact, any longer the noble beasts of the wild – but are now broken and degraded examples of their respective species, no more representative of their species than an animatronic puppet would be.
Finally, I must discuss the birds at the zoo. .The cages are far too small. This video will show it more concisely than I shall be able to write.
Birds, in general, fly. A small number lack this gift, but for the most part, avialae are characterised by their mastery of the air. A bird denied flight is as a writer denied words – a situation so ridiculous that it defies sane comprehension. Freedom of mobility characterises birds more perhaps than any other type of animal, even free roaming fish of the sea – a pelican may swoop, dive, and return to the sky, but his piscine quarry gains the freedom of the air only in the cage of the avian mouth. Yet, it is considered normal for us to cage birds, to imprison them – to deny them their evolutionary birthright. Surely part of the magic of seeing animals in the flesh is the sense, no matter how small, that these animals are getting on with their day-to-day business with the minimum of disruption from their surroundings and captors? That we are, in some small way, seeing, and perhaps understanding these animals in a way that we just can’t experience through pictures and words? In a way that is lost completely to us, when this is how we see them? I do not propose that we do away wth zoos – but perhaps they should be designed and run in ways that suit the animals more, so that we in turn may better experience them.