Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's a zoo in there

Since moving to Essex, one of the kids' favourite places to hang has become Colchester Zoo. It's so expensive to go once that most parents who live locally seem to opt for the annual ticket deal which allows unlimited visits. It pays for itself in about three visits.

Meerkats: resisting a caption that uses 'Simples'

My wife has taken our two monkeys there on lots of occasions since she got membership back in March. It's about five to ten minutes drive from our house, and you can also get a bus there (although due to the ubiquity of Dad Cabs, they haven't tested that one yet).

I hadn't been myself until last week, when she was off for a spa day and I was looking after the boys. The elder one J has been going on about when I'm going to take them to the zoo, so it seemed like a good time to do it.

To be honest, like anyone who's seen too many animals in distress documentaries, I'm a bit ambivalent about zoos. I appreciate that they do a lot of work in studying animals, as well as breeding them and reintroducing them to the wild. Some animals are now so rare, that zoos may well be their last hope of survival.

However, there is something infinitely sad about seeing any living creature behind bars, especially when it's passed off as entertainment. I remember going to zoos as a child and being struck by the dichotomy of the animals I saw on nature documentaries like Survival - running free on the savannah, and killing and eating their neighbours - and those I saw in places like Calderpark Zoo in Glasgow, which was a slightly depressing place, and is now closed.

I have visited zoos since, with nephews and the like, but they've never really intrigued me. But I have to say that I was quite impressed by Colchester Zoo.

Zoos have definitely changed. One of the things that struck me was the size of the enclosures that the animals were in. Not only were they a decent size, but there has obviously been an attempt to provide stimulation for animals as much as possible, and to replicate something of the routine in the wild.This extends to 'starvation days' for many of them, mimicking the fact that in nature food isn't delivered daily on a plate.

This, and quite a few other facts I learned from the staff who were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I don't know how many local kids work at the zoo, but I reckon our two would love to have part time jobs there one day, if we're still living here.

Other highlights were the flying displays where large predatory birds pluck large chunks of meat from just above the heads of aghast spectators, the impressively huge tigers, and the ever popular meerkats. Truth be told though, there was a lot we didn't see as, in true Radio Times fashion, there's so much in it.

Which is just as well as I've got 15 months' worth of membership (due to a promotion when I bought my Gold card) and visiting ahead. In an ideal world, I suppose the best place for these animals would be in the wild, but it's not an ideal world, and with that in mind I'm giving Colchester Zoo a qualified thumbs up.

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