(c) Gary Winogrand

The second visit into Yangon Zoo with Freddy the Terror and a bunch of his friends sparked memories and a reaction to recent events.

Winogrand’s book The Animals is something I’ve spent too much time looking at. The statue-esque Seal, the stalking Wolf and the peeing Orangutan are stunning things that bend my head. But the sickly Hippo with his throat full of garbage (shovelled in by the visiting masses) is a devastating image of captivity, desperation and outright begging. It is perverse, sad and somehow glorious in what Winogrand did.

I had these moments of twitching yesterday as people handed potato chips, sweet biscuits, candy and rubbish to the caged monkeys and marvelled at the outstretched arms asking for more. For a small price you can hand sugarcane and bananas to elephants (who will even play basketball or a harmonica to show their appreciation), pat a bear or have an eagle perched on your arm… a carnival sideshow act at times rather than the conservation/protection/education aesthetic that the ‘zoo industry’ generally stands by.

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Click to go to article

So it came with a shock to see the reports of Copenhagen Zoo putting a bolt gun to a young giraffe’s head because he was ‘surplus’ and would run the risk of ‘inbreeding’ and not increasing the gene pool. The body was then dissected in front of a large crowd (education?) and the parts eventually fed to the resident lions. I can’t grasp these actions… I’ve read various statements from a number of players and still can’t quite make the jump to “Sure.OK”. Why not just trade the young fella out? Zoos are constantly moving animals around in trade and sale to diversify gene pools and broaden their own collections (“I’ll give you a lion for a pair of macaws, two ostrich and a pair of small crocodiles”). There is no denying that the industry is well versed in the practice… and the geography and fluid borders of Europe make it all the more easy…. in fact they had multiple offers from other zoos to take the animal… I’ll have to keep reading –there’ll probably be a moment when I “get it”. Until then… horror.

So we left the Yangon Zoo not long before dinner… Fred had a crazy time seeing all the amazing animals… the joy that seeing these things up close brings is incredible to see plastered across a kid’s face; and the conversations it sparks and the descriptions and the knowledge and enthusiasm for ‘more’… so for all my hand-wringing and tut-tut-tutting and condemnation (at times)… well it somehow quickly becomes a grey pro/con kinda thing where I go in circles.

Fred in taxi

A big afternoon full of excitement and the short taxi ride home was a few quiet moments where little midget batteries could be recharged.

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