In the old days, anyone with a mangy bear, a mostly tame raccoon, a donkey, and an exotic chicken could set up a zoo and charge a penny to see the animals. If the bear could dance, so much the better. Anybody with a camel could give camel rides, and anybody with a hyena could put it on display. The line between circus and zoo was thin and frail.
Then we started getting advanced and complicated notions about animal comfort and safety. Zoos expanded their exhibit spaces, started calling them "habitats," and invested in elaborate water features and native flora. Degreed scientists were put in charge of food and medicine, and words like "respect" and "natural" and "healthy" were bandied about.
The bad thing about the old-fashioned zoos was that you can't help thinking the animals were miserable. The bad thing about the new zoos is that you can't see the animals half the time. They're so safe and comfortable in their nice healthy habitats that you end up saying, "Look, Suzy! There's a tuft of the sloth's left elbow! See? See it? Way back there behind the fourth tree from the left!"
Last week we went to the Living Treasures Animal Park in Moraine, PA. Well, there were certainly a lot of things there that were living.
In the space of a few acres, the owners managed to display monkeys, bears (two kinds!), lions, tigers, kangaroos, timber wolves, lemurs, hyenas, camels, alligators, a musk ox, ostriches, as well as goats, ponies, llamas, and the occasional chicken. There was a camel ride. There was a horse-drawn carriage safari through a few more acres of free range pasture where Indian deer, ostriches, oxen, and other denizens flocked to the carriage as the driver enthusiastically hurled out scoops of pellets.
Pellets. When you come in to Living Treasures, you purchase a bucket of pellets for $3, and almost everything in the park eats this generic food item. Except for the bears and timber wolves, which eat dog food. And the monkeys and lemurs, which eat cheerios. Wait a minute! You can feed BEARS? Live, actual, adult bears? Yes. Standing behind the low wooden fence, you can poke pieces of dog food into a PVC pipe that slants down into the bear's area, behind a slightly sturdier fence. The bears lie there, waiting for the dog food to roll down, and then the slurp it up.
This is how all the animals are. They wait for the food to come, and then they eat it, and then they wait for more food. Until they are so completely sated and gorged that they lie down, bursting at the seams, and try to digest some of it. This kangaroo was so stuffed she is pushing out the joey inside her pouch. She can't even fit in one more carrot:
Besides the lions, bears, tigers, leopards, and a whole slew of other animals that would have really worried me if they hadn't been so fat and happy, there was the petting zoo. Including camels, llamas, goats, rabbits, and a ZEBRA:
A nice cute, fat, happy little baby zebra that was as tame as your mother. Plus camels you could hug:
So, while I was shaken to the core by the close proximity with bears, and while I expect that my PETA neighbors would have a lot to say about the lack of habitat for each animal, the children loved it. It was an interesting place for another redheaded homeschooling convention.