Europe '96: Zoo Story

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"I been to the zoo. I said, 'I been to the zoo.' Hey, mister, I been to the zoo."
- Edward Albee, Zoo Story

I been to the zoo.

Any who know me well will be aware this is not an unusual activity for me, although usually is is Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. This time it was the zoo in Ciutadella Park in Barcelona.

They have a great collection of animals, but the place is a bit much of an animal prison, especially for the larger primates and some of the felines. Apparently, Barcelona has been wrangling for fifteen years for a new location for the zoo [Addendum 2002: and they still are... And 2021: while Wikipedia's article on the Barcelona Zoo 🔗 is just a stub, nothing there suggests that the move ever happened], and as a result they really haven't invested into the one they've got, so you get atrocities like 30 baboons in a circular enclosure which might just be adequate for seven, or a display which shows alligators, crocodiles and caymans all side by side in adjoining far-too-small pens. Some animals with lesser space requirements (small monkeys, bats, snakes) do fine, and the antelope and its relatives seem OK, but the apes are just kind of depressed and depressing. Particularly sad, because I have never seen this many apes in one zoo.

One of those apes is an albino gorilla, known as "Floquet de Neu" or "Snowflake." One would think that after all the money he's probably earned this zoo they would provide him with quarters fit for a gorilla, and admittedly, he and his troop do seem a bit better off than their relatives, but it's still pretty lame. No plants, no flight distance, not much to play with beyond just ropes.

Paradoxically, this lousy approach to a zoo, with too many animals in too little space, makes it a pretty easy place to get a close up look at animals which, in a more open environment, would probably keep more distance. From the point of view of sketching, this was kind of cool, especially with those animals which didn't look like they were going crazy.

The zoo has extensive signs in Catalan and Castillian describing the animals from both zoological and environmental viewpoints. It also has a sign by almost every cage indicating a corporate sponsorship for the particular animal (some of which are kind of amusing in their own right, like Lacoste for the alligators. Then again, I guess Brown Bear Car Wash chipped into the bear display at WPZ). However, maybe because of lack of funds, it has very few people around who can talk to visitors about the animals. This is not just a pedagogical deficit. It also means that there is no one to remind little boys that slamming their hand against a window to get the attention of a monkey on the other side is not very nice to the monkey.

So what can I say? I got to see several species of animal I'd never seen before, got in a good afternoon of sketching, but on the whole I didn't really have a very good time. I wish Barcelona luck in finding a larger site for a new zoo, but I wish they would at least invest into giving their animals a richer environment even if their quarters will have to remain cramped for several more years.

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 26 February 2021

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