The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 52:
Goodbye 2015, may the promises of the Paris Climate Accords (COP21) offer a new year of hope us and our planet in 2016. This blue marble is our only home, there is no Plan B.
Sivhøne (Gallinua chloropus)
The Past and Future of Wild Things
Only pale blue sky hung over the pond. The water had direct access to the heavens and freedom, such a stark contrast from the ubiquitous iron fencing and netting of Zoo Berlin. The varied ducks coursing the water looked content. I abandoned my family to examine the assemblage. They could look at the lions or whatever in cages, I wanted to see some wild ducks.
Wednesday was our last day in Berlin, and the zoo was the day’s only goal. With every back sporting a rucksack, we checked out of the Berlin Fjord Hotel and walked to the subway station about a kilometer away. The “U2” line would take us right to zoo, disappointingly it had no related music pumped in.
The destination is older than most of America. Since 1844, the zoo has showed attendees the wonders of the wild world. In 1844, there were 26 United States. The entrance gate was imposing and inviting; the magic of sculptured masonry and wrought iron. A low sun was in the offing and mild temperatures confused me given that Christmas was at hand.
Who doesn’t love a zoo, especially in the company of children with a sense of wonder? A reason adults like zoos is a chance to realize childhood, to take back in those sights and sounds, and most evocating, the smells of happys days and youthful innocence. Perhaps my Norwegian friends would say that’s called, “stemning.”
Zoo Berlin claims the most species of any zoo in the world, that alone is a cause for visiting. There is an oak that survived World War Two; predating the Columbian Exchange it has its own sign. But with a historic premises the zoo itself is an attraction, animals aside. Buildings from a more decorative age draw eyes to animal enclosures and add to the ambiance. But The Sunday Nature Call isn’t about buildings.
As a historic zoo, the Berlin complex reveals its vintage not just in masonry but also design. The enclosures seemed small and uninteresting for the animals. Clearly the style dates from a time in which maximum exposure was the driving interest, not wellness for the captives.
Old zoos also make me sad. I look at wild animals dulled by captivity and feel a sense of loss. Yes, there is a Reticulated Giraffe but he should be alarmed at my presence. His muscles should be rippling under his hairy coat – ready to flee at any moment – but he loafs and his majesty is reduced to the depth of a simple painting. He walks so slowly in the enclosure it’s as if he’s purposely trying to take as long as he can to reach the next morsel as a way to make time pass.
For millions of Berliners, this zoo has been a windowpane into a wider wild world. Yet, the metaphor also implies a barrier. Glass allows you to see but not to touch, to hear-but not fully, to smell only the overpowering odors-not subtle fragrances, and to taste only what is on your “civilized” side of the pane. Maybe windows don’t let us really sense much at all, illusions like the world that we think emanates from our TV and intimate computer screens?
I have been so fortunate to experience wildlife in their natural habitats. Through hiking, fishing, hunting, and paddling I have experienced in full all my five senses with wild things. Zoos can compliment these experiences, they can be inspirations to engage the natural world.
This trip to Zoo Berlin reminded me of all the happy times I was taken to zoos. I was also reminded that zoos are not natural. Zoos need to be as naturalistic as possible even though they can never be natural. Patrons need to be taught in multiple modalities that these animals are captives, shells of their wild selves. They are no more creatures in full than you would be if locked up in Leavenworth.
Angling around the pond I got a photo of a Netta rufina, to my delight swimming among the horde of Anas platyrhynchos. Then to my surprise I spotted a magnificently plumed Aix sponsa. Finally, to my disappointment I realized these birds were not wild at all, they too were captives. There were species here not possible in the wild, surely all their wings were clipped. The sky above was as inaccessible to them as it they were under a net. Another illusion.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.