Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Bioparco Rome - hungry mosquitoes and lively baboons

I was surrounded by wildlife as soon as I arrived at the Bioparco. Unfortunately it was mosquitos, who took rather a shine to my pasty legs. Scratching and cursing we entered the park’s impressive gateway and began wandering around in the Italian midday heat.
The park was attractively laid out, with shaded paths running up and down hills, and plenty of space. The strangest thing was that compared to British zoos, which are usually heaving most days of the week, the park was really very quiet, and we enjoyed long periods without seeing anyone. That said, it was also odd not to see many keepers out and about – perhaps they don’t work over the day’s hottest hours?
The main problem with it was that while there was plenty of space for pedestrians, the same treatment hadn’t been granted to its inhabitants – with tigers perched on narrow ledges, and a pair of Asian elephants failing to escape the sun in their bare enclosure.
It wasn’t the worst zoo I’ve ever seen (that prize goes to Beijing) but it did remind me just how high the standard of most British zoos is.
We saw an enormous colony of baboons, again without enough space, clambering over rope ladders, picking fights with one another (and grubs off one another) and chasing crows away from their food.
It was lovely to see some of the more unusual lemurs kept here, alongside the ubiquitous ring tails, there were black lemurs and red ruffed lemurs all enjoying the hot weather and in good spirits.
I was upset at the hippo enclosure watching a group of people old enough to know better trying to get their attention by throwing twigs at them, and playing their ring tones loudly. It really bugs me when people try to attract the attention of animals, through whatever method. I understand when it’s kids, but so often it’s adults showing off to one another. To me, part of the appeal of zoos is that you never know which creatures will be awake, or interacting, or feeding…and which will be asleep in their ponds, ears flicking above the surface. It just means when you do see an animal that’s a bit more lively, it makes it more special and unusual. I would hate to visit a zoo where animals were too stressed to snooze, or forced to perform, and it strikes me as arrogant to think anything else.
A case in point was when we went to visit the brown bears, who actually had a much nicer enclosure than many of the other animals, and we couldn’t see any evidence of them. Instead of banging on the glass, we went on our merry way to see the wolves, who were lying in the shade, relaxing.
It’s a strange balance for the zoo industry, making appropriate cages for creatures. On the one hand, you want them to be able to hide from the public gaze, and have some privacy, on the other, you need your guests to be able to see each animal to appreciate its role in your zoo. Personally, I’d rather not see a bear or tiger and know it’s lurking mysteriously somewhere in the undergrowth, than see the haunted face of one with nowhere to hide. But maybe that’s because I go to zoos so often – if I don’t see a creature in one, I’m bound to come across it in another!

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