Do you not think that loneliness is enough of a price to pay? Would it not be kinder to
Oh, and as for indoors quarters, is the tiny, damp concrete cell a place that any creature should be asked to spend the night time hours – or even nights and days during cold winter weeks?’
I watched Twiggy for a long while. She stood on the concrete path that bordered the featureless short-grassed compound (a cosmetic touch one could say, to make visitors think what a nice areas she had). Then she slowly wandered about, looked briefly through the door of the ‘elephant house’ and then came towards me. I talked to her, said her name and told her I wished I could save her and give her a better life. I held out my hand. She stopped. Then slowly she lifted out her trunk and stretched it towards me. It was not only a meeting of hands, it was a meeting of moments – an echo of that day in London Zoo 30 years ago when Pole Pole reached out across the moat to touch Bill’s and my hands. It was quite unbearable. And now, as I write, I am at home. Twiggy is still there.
Let us not forget, amidst the horrors of elephant and rhino poaching that, in captivity, life for these wonderful animals can also be hell – ‘Hopeless Garden’ I would call it.
And so to the rest of the Zoo. It is tiny. 17 acres. It holds 2,000 animals and 270 species. Even the numbers defy belief. There are one or two attempts at ‘improvement’. Two white tigers live in separate enclosures – with some rocks, shrubs and grass. As do four white lions. I have seen worse, but I can’t really say that about most of the rest. The solitary, magnificent lion roaring his lonely message to the high wall of his cracked concrete enclosure – a message never to be answered.
An uncountable number of wolves, most with terrible mange, one with an open head wound and some with empty water troughs (I managed to get one filled up) – all on concrete. Barbary sheep with overgrown feet (one displaying stereotypic behaviour, as did a honey badger). A young solitary giraffe, birds in cages, painfully thin horses, on concrete, eating their own faeces. And great apes. What was that heap of rags on the concrete floor – my God, it is an orang-utan. Forgive us for we know not – or is it care not – what we do. The female lies in a metal basket on the wall, fiddling with a piece of nylon mesh. The chimp just sits and looks. The snakes are beautiful, coiled in an empty water bowl or in their very small stone, glass-fronted boxes – resplendent with a painted backdrop of wilderness. Nothing lives except the snake.
I could go on but I think the picture is clear. I leave you with the image of four flamingos indoors in a small room. They are trying to drink from the floor on which there is no water – why are they there? Possibly because some building work is going on nearby. Why have they no water? That I can’t guess. We complained about this when we left. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the Jungle cat sitting in a 1 meter cage built into a wall. No, I mustn’t forget any of this or any of these extraordinary, fascinating, innocent, tragic prisoners that we reduce to objects so we can display them, own them, control them.
Chris, Rob and I never will. I promise. Nor will any of us at Born Free. We will continue to do everything we can to help them and so many other innocent souls held behind the bars.
Virginia McKenna OBE
Founder & Trustee