I gave buns to the elephant when I went down the zoo

There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.
There’s a sort of a tiny potamus,
and a tiny nosserus too –
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

by AA Milne

I went down the zoo today. I took three small children along.

And as small children are wont, they asked me some difficult questions. Not about scientific names and habitats and things I could quietly Google on my smartphone on the spot.

Oh no!

They asked me things like:

Are zoos good or bad?

Should the animals be returned to the wild?

Why are people so cruel?

Why do people want to kill rhinos?

They weren’t easy questions to answer.

Are zoos good or bad?

Looking at Mac the Gorilla and the orangutans it seems bad. They look lonely and desperately unhappy. On the other hand they are endangered and here they are cared for and we can try to keep a few alive in case one-day people wake up and stop destroying their homes and hunting them.

I saw people who will never have the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in the wild stop and stare in wonder and awe. They walked away touched, I hope, by their majesty and strength.

We may live in Africa, but for most of us even seeing our indigenous animals in the wild is beyond our financial means and imaginings. Those experiences are for the extremely wealthy and tourists who pay in foreign currency.

I have been lucky. I have been out in the bush and watched a lion kill, seen chameleons hatch and honey badgers saunter past. I’m one of the few.

Should the animals be returned home?

How many of them would survive out of captivity. Most of them have been bred in zoos around the world or rescued from torture and cruelty. They’ve never hunted for food, protected their territory. Worse, out there their homes are destroyed and they are hunted to the point of extinction. I’d love Mac the gorilla to swing from a liana in a rain forest, but I know paradise wouldn’t last long. The best I could hope for is for them to live in an environment as close to the wild as possible.

Why are people so cruel?

I have no idea. We seem to be the only animal who revels in cruelty not only to other animals but to each other.  It’s the God complex in us.

Why do people want to kill our rhinos?

For money. For a hard-on. For magic. The horns don’t do anything. They have absolutely no medical value whatsoever. But so far this year over 300 rhinos have been brutally slaughtered for the Chinese market. So the answer is easy – for nothing. They kill them for nothing.

We didn’t give buns to the elephants, but we watched them munch down on fresh mulberry branches.

And while my little charges ran happily from animal to animal I walked slowly pondering the questions they asked and wondered what will remain here for them to show their children.

The Johannesburg Zoo is a sanctuary in the heart of the sprawling city.

You can find them online here: http://www.jhbzoo.org.za/

Or follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JohannesburgZoo

You can also help save our rhinos with a click at http://www.savetherhino.org/ Save the Rhino International works to conserve viable populations of critically endangered rhinos in Africa and Asia.

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