How do we zoo?

Fota Island Wildlife Park, Cork

So something has arrived in Ireland (clue: clear blue skies, dandelions, etc.), but I won’t say it aloud and jinx it. And once it happens, people ditch their work and school and go have outdoor fun. I think they ditch their work because as soon as temperatures go above 18 degree, the motorway is crammed with cars, trailer vans; bikes and canoes anchored safely on top or sides of the former set. Possibly the offices in Ireland are used to giving half day leaves on such happy occasions judging by the number of people outside on working days. 

Parks and beaches are the most popular venues. But the one place where people with kids seem to prefer is the local zoo. One year, we were stuck in miles long traffic jam quite a distance from the approach to the zoo. Parents seem to think the best place for the sun and their offspring to mix is the zoo.

Again the queue for the tickets is long, and we witness sunscreen being applied, stylish sunglasses taken out, and children being told to stop wingeing already.

We had a side conversation about the ubiquitous use of sunscreens now. Sure the hole in the ozone layer is bigger, and people’s lifestyles are now different from their ancestors, and I should be the last one to not take cancer seriously. Yet as someone who is ultra sensitive to chemicals and artificial fragrances, and I get headaches from most creams, I really hope we know what we are slathering on our skins.

The heat in the northern hemisphere is very different to the heat in say, India. There we sweat, and faint if the heat takes a toll on the body, but we do get to know how the heat is affecting us. But here the sun just beats down relentlessly and there are no outward obvious signs. After a few minutes in this sun, we attempt to take shelter in our sunglasses and hats. It is oppressive, but hard to know what exactly is the problem with our bodies.

Okay, the zoo. Us grownups actually have a slight unease going to zoos. We stood gazing at the lonely eagle that was caged up high. A bird that is fabled for heights and magnificent wings.

We also took a toddler along, and we find that very small children actually cannot focus on far away animals and the wide scenery. The chief attraction for the toddler then was the water and dropping stones into it. A side delight was the ducks and swans that waddled over to look at us. We also managed to drop the stuffed toy animal bought at the gift store, into the dirty waters.

The waters are kind of dirty as the ponds and water bodies are not real and not dug deep. Ireland and Cork in particular is a former marshy area, and there is no dearth of natural water sources. We got to talking that it might have been more natural to divert existing water. Digging up shallow ponds ended up in water clogged with algae and probably they need to replenish the water regularly.

This zoo is a great place to take kids around and talk about wildlife conservation, etc. And it is an exhausting walk too. There was a friendly staff member who enquired about whether we wanted to know more about the tigers.

In the visits before, with only a preschooler, we have run about to catch the talks and feeding times of specific animals. 

Many peacocks were strangely roaming freely, one was perched above the enclosure for the Humboldt penguins, one near the swans’ water, probably the same one was seen outside the tropical centre. Speaking of which, we went in, and by jove it was humid in there. I was put off straight away when we saw an iguana moving in the creepers freely. On reaching the iguana’s cage, I saw an ominous sign,

If you don’t spot me inside, I am taking a stroll outside my cage. 

Something to that effect.. Right. I am not a lover of creepy crawlies, and moved fast to the doors. Rest of my family had a grand time leisurely admiring the other residents of the tropics.  

We saw the Rothschild giraffe (Giraffa camelopardis rothschildi). We got talking about how the influential family probably donated the giraffe or contributed to its conservation. Later I read that there was a zoologist by the name (from the same family), and there are another 153 insects, 58 birds, 17 mammals, three fish, three spiders, two reptiles, one millipede and one worm that also carry his name! A prolific zoologist indeed. Or a man who had the leisure and wealth to spot and collect these multitude of creatures.

Here is an amazing photo of the nests the birds have built on trees inside the zoo. (Photo courtesy, the husband. I was at that point exhausting myself trying to push the buggy up a slope.)

Teenagers seem to come out in groups to visit as well, it’s kind of nice to see them preferring outings in the natural setting. But the display of affection by the youngsters was something I was hoping my kiddos did not register. 

There are also the elderly coming for the strenuous walk, it is a great thing in this country that the elderly are always active, and go out by themselves. 

In my childhood in India, the trips to the zoo were an inexpensive affair. The entry fee was about 5 or 10 rupees. There would be the mandatory peacock, elephant, monkeys, a number of them. Dusty giraffes. Snakes. Ahem. 

The city zoos in India are run by the government, and even though the maintenance and upkeep is nothing worth writing about, the general public has an affordable view of the wild inhabitants. There are also larger conservation parks for specific animals, which maintain the fauna in their natural habitat. 


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