Problems on hold
Today Watani carries a feature on the Giza Zoo to mark 125 years on its opening. Work to establish the zoo started in 1869 by order of Khedive Ismail; it opened in March 1891 and for many years remained the world’s fourth best zoo, after those of Vienna, Paris and London.
The Giza Zoo, like many of Egypt’s landmarks, has to its credit a brilliant history that increasingly faded over time till it finally dimmed on account of gross negligence, lack of care and development, and the hustle and bustle of visitors whose respect for wildlife is minimal. Visitors to the Giza Zoo have been no boon to the zoo, what with their harmful and at times devastating effect on the garden and the wildlife it hosts. The Giza Zoo lost its accreditation by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) in 2004, and never since regained it.
I am not today discussing the setback of the Giza Zoo, nor ways to tackle it. Rather, I am looking at an issue placed on hold in Egypt, this being the concept of zoological parks in the first place. I believe we ought to revisit our perception of zoos; we should be serious about taking a civilisational leap which many other countries have taken, especially those blessed with a diversity of wildlife. The notion of zoological parks began when kings and emperors collected various specimens of wildlife which they then kept in their palaces for their personal leisure; these later developed into public zoos. However, the wealth of modern knowledge on various species of wildlife and their natural habitat, inevitably placed zoological parks in a new light. The concept of such parks being live museums where animals from here and there are displayed in adjacent cages, offered food and veterinary care so that visitors could pour in to see them and play with them, has long become outdated. This concept came to be viewed as a mix of human ignorance, arrogance and cruelty to animals.
The modern outlook to wildlife has changed; zoological parks in the classic sense now represent a crime against animals. Restricting animals to cages under the pretext that they are too savage for interaction with humans is a crime. Supplying them with food and impeding their instinct to chase prey in the wild to provide themselves with their own food is a crime. Taking them out of their natural habitat is a crime. Subjecting them to the hustle and bustle of human crowds who gather to watch them is a crime. The mere gathering together in the same spot of species that require conflicting climatic conditions to survive, such as polar and tropical animals, illustrates the volume of the crime.
Today, open animal parks or safari parks are replacing traditional zoological parks. The idea is to cordon off a vast space that teems with wildlife, and declare it a natural reserve. Man does not meddle with the fauna and flora of these areas and does not interfere in the ecosystem. In safari parks predators and non-predator animals are separated, allocating vast areas for each. Natural parks, however, involve no human interference whatsoever; animals are left to interact and their different paths cross; natural laws and instincts alone govern the ecosystem. In safari and natural parks, it is not wildlife that is controlled; human behaviour is rather curbed through putting in place regulations that ensure humans do not tamper with nature. Routes and timetables are set for park visitors under strict supervision in order to ensure their safety and that they do not trifle with anything in the park. Hunting is strictly forbidden.
In light of all the above, what is to be done today with the Giza Zoo? It is inevitable that the zoo should be shut down, and the place reinstated as the original, splendid botanical garden that it was when it boasted a wealth of rare plants and trees before it was turned into a zoo. I suggest planning for a safari park on the outskirts of Egypt’s prospective new capital. The animals currently in Giza Zoo that can live in the safari park can then be moved there where they can run free in a clement environment. Let us say farewell to an era where our children would visit a discordant environment where a melancholy lion sits behind bars and monkeys play next to a clearing in which children mount an elephant’s back near a water pool where a polar bear limps in water cooled by ice slabs on hot summer days.
13 March 2016