The Calgary Zoo sure could use a break today.
As if it’s not enough that the $300,000 ray exhibit went bust.
Now there’s a stunning photo of a gorilla with a knife in hand. I don’t know what’s more remarkable, that a zoo-goer perfectly recorded the moment, or that gorilla Suri faced her knife-wielding pen-mate with such equanimity.
It seems a zookeeper forgot the knife in the enclosure. The photo is everywhere. It’s another challenge for the zoo, which attracts 1.2 million visitors annually.
The zoo has a dilemma. In order to create a bond, it personalizes the animals. They have names (like knife-holder Barika), and public histories. The downside is that zoo failures are painfully public.
The Calgary Zoo has moved away from northern animals (remember the seals?) in favour of those from warm weather climates like Africa, and marine creatures, such as Cownose rays.
Rays draw crowds. At San Diego’s Seaworld last year, my family joined hundreds sitting aside the shallow stingray pool. There were shrieks of delight from kids who touched de-barbed stingrays. It was good for us. I don’t know about the rays. Maintaining animals in captivity is tricky.
When 41 of Calgary’s Cownose rays died in May 2008, the zoo’s inexperience with marine fish was painfully obvious. It took months to concede zoo error: A lack of oxygen in the tank. We’re not alone.
This week, 11 of 18 rays died at Washington’s National Zoo for a similar reason: Lack of dissolved oxygen in the tank.
To the Calgary Zoo’s credit, it shut down the ray exhibit. Zoo officials said the rays weren’t meant to be permanent after all, which strikes me as a bit odd.
There are strong conservation arguments for zoos. If we connect with the rays, or fall for gorillas Barika and Suri, we might better protect their kind. Zoo animals remind me of first-generation immigrants — they are disadvantaged to aid future generations.
Read through the zoo’s annual report and there’s a sense of girding for a fight: “We will not surrender to pressure from extremists,” writes Dr. Clement Lanthier. He mentions those “who oppose our efforts.”
I love the Calgary Zoo. I don’t know if this view is extreme, but I’m partial to the gardens. I can’t help feel badly for the caged animals.
Barika got a knife and showed us all up. He gently put the knife down.