We all know the drill. First day back to school, especially primary, and you would be set a task revolving around either what you did in the school holidays. Teacher’s were keen to find out about new experiences that you may have had, especially if they were unusual and would use those as a platform to share learning with the rest of the class. This week’s post is my summer holiday reflection and an overnight visit to London Zoo.
They have built some new lodges in the zoo, near the Asiatic Lions. I have long been grappling with the existence of zoos. I loved them as a child and have a fond memory of a visit to London Zoo aged 9 or 10. I recall spending a long period of time watching the penguins at Lubetkin’s award winning penguin pool. Built in the 1930’s, at the time it was a groundbreaking and innovative design. The architect drew on the knowledge of penguin experts at the time and it went on to inspire many other enclosures across the world. It now lies empty, retained as a listed building, but no longer used for its original purpose due to modern day knowledge of the negative impact on animals welfare.
It is this issue that has been the cause of my love/hate relationship with zoos. An inner turmoil of the concept of captivity for wild animals being anything but negative, especially in relation to providing entertainment. I harboured a sense of guilt and begrudged taking my children to zoos when they were younger. Then a few years ago we visited Port Lympne wildlife reserve and it began to open my eyes to utilising those experiences to build support and investment for conservation in the wild.
Returning to our overnight visit, as part of the package you receive a number of tours. These tours are the real focus of my blog this week. The thing is they could have skirted over the Lubetkin pool, not drawn any attention to it. Instead it became an important part of the narrative. They explained how it was an example of how animal welfare approaches were improving. They demonstrated humility and a degree of vulnerability in acknowledging that they not only got it wrong then, but that they may be getting things wrong now and their work needs to be governed by a willingness to learn from the past and an openness to new ideas for the future. Across those three tours they transformed my perspective on the work they do and it was driven by an honesty about the past. For me that made the experience feel more authentic and it increased my perception of the zoos integrity. In those talks the hosts and Zoological Society for London became one.
Though it has gone quiet in recent weeks it made me think about the questions raised about colonial, disability and LGBTQ+ history. About the stories that have gone untold and unheard for too long. As a society we won;t always get things right. Let’s talk about where things have been wrong in the past and be open about the fact the future may well question the way things are now…