The zoo in Stuttgart


I do not have any childhood memories of visiting a zoo. There were no zoos in the towns and cities I lived in the first twelve years of my life, and later, in Hyderabad, when I visited the local zoo with some relatives, my mind was already on other matters. I do not recollect being struck by the animals I saw there; memory draws a blank on zoo related episodes.

But I was fascinated by the jungle. I loved the occasional visits to forests in Nepal, the Chitwan National park and surrounding areas, with tigers, elephants, bears, and rhinos. I carried a fascination for rhinos, probably because I was intrigued by what I’d read as boy in a thriller, The Kaziranga trail, about poachers who kill rhinos for their horns. Nepal was known for the one-horned rhino, and I remember setting out on an elephant into the tall jungle grass, in search of a rhino. On the rare occasion we spotted one it was at a distance, and I never could manage a close look at the thick scales and rugged appearance I had read about.

The distinction in my mind between these places – the zoo, with animals behind enclosures and in cages, and the jungle, with animals roaming the wild – had remained hidden and unexamined. I was indifferent toward zoos, and I held a deep fascination for the wild, but I did not have the occasion to think about this until I visited the zoo in Stuttgart.

10 thoughts on “The zoo in Stuttgart

  1. Excellent. Recently we took R to his first zoo visit in Houston, which surprisingly, is quite decent. We plan on making this trip every year (till at least he is 10) to see him look at the experience with a different lens as years progress.

    1. Patrix, that is a very good plan. People who’ve written about zoos have been profoundly affected by their visits as children, and those memories continue to shape how they view animals and the environment. As R grows, his responses will reveal how his “lens” (as you put it) is changing. I hope you will write about it too.

  2. Wondrous photos. I think my favourite is the last. And much food for thought. I love these longer photo essays, with space for words to ramble, mood to flip and photos to succeed one another, not just the arc of one thought/image.

    1. Thank you, Jean. I’m glad you understand and like the photo essay format. I understand that it does not lend itself to an easy read (clicking ten times can be frustrating for the typical reader on the web), so I restrict this format to those occasions when I really want the reader to slow down and reflect over these pictures and words. It is an experiment, and I’m still learning.

  3. I have many of the same thoughts about zoos that you do. Some of my earliest memories are about zoos. When I was a child of three we lived across the street from the Washington DC zoo and my father took me for walks there often in the evenings.

    The bit about the bonobos was fascinating. I suppose you have read “Peacemaking among Primates”? It’s a wise and wonderful book.

  4. I have a love/hate relationship with zoos. I love visiting the animals and having the chance to think thoughts about biology and evolution and diversity, such as you’ve expressed here, but I’m troubled by the confinement of the animals and what it implies about human beings. There’s no doubt in my mind that certain endangered species have been helped by zoo consciousness-raising-campaigns in the public – pandas for instance – but it helps if those species are loveable and have human characteristics that make them feel somehow familiar. I guess I don’t see the primates as being trapped in their non-humanness; evolution worked in inexplicable ways, but all creatures had common ancestors, if we go back far enough; someday perhaps the type of humans we are now will look “primative”to a more evolved species. I feel a sense of wonder and awe at biological diversity, and have decided that I cannot explain its “why” anymore than I can explain why I was born into a human body. Thanks for all your thoughts here, for the story of that little girl, and for the wonderful photographs!

    1. Many people seem to have mixed feelings about zoos. Fascination and awe sits next to feelings of doubt about the confinement and its consequences. This probably reflects our evolutionary state, and we’ll need to evolve further to get rid of this ambivalence in our ideas about zoos and animals.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Beth.

  5. Superb essay, and a timely one for me. I recently requested a visit to the local zoo when my friends asked me what I wished for my birthday. It’s a progressive zoo, with many naturalistic habitats. Yet, the sea horses were in a tiny tank, and I felt sad when I saw them. Other habitats were quite grand, and this zoo makes an effort to interest young people in biology and careers in animal science. But you are right, there is a feeling of doubt that lingers. A lady standing in front of the baby tiger exhibit with us said something that troubles me. She said, “can you give them a shot to make them stay this size so I can take one home!” Frightening.

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