I have a lot of memories of visiting zoos as a younger person. There was the time my Boy Scout troop had an overnight stay at the Cincinnati Zoo, where we had behind-the-scenes tours of the habitats and infrastructure that made up the place; I was amazed at the intricate facades created for zoo visitors. Another summer at the same zoo and I'm about to start drinking my red cream soda during a field trip lunch break, when a bird poops directly into it from a tree overhead. I remember feeling frustration and resentment that this creature had invaded my personal space so - now I laugh at the irony of that resentment, felt so strongly against one who was just answering the call of this artificial shrine to come observe animal life, poop and all. And most recently, standing with my nose and right hand pressed up against the glass at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, apologizing to the once-grand and beautiful Gorillas on display there for the noisy people, the cheesy layout of the captivity, the life stolen from them. "I'm so sorry," I mouthed. "Please forgive us."
I've had plenty of conversations about why most zoos maybe aren't such a good thing, about what they symbolize, what they mean about who we are as a people and a culture. But until I read Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos by Derrick Jensen and with photography by Karen Tweedy-Holmes, I hadn't really explored that symbolism and sense of concern in any depth. And to that end, the book is a thought-provoking and eye-opening treatment of the subject.
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