When I was in high school, I visited both Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo a number of times. The zoos were crowded with people of all ages having fun, laughing at the playful monkeys and watching the tigers and lions chewing up huge chunks of raw, red meat. When I went with friends to Brookfield Zoo, we had fun tossing peanuts to the elephants and bears until a guard told us to read the sign, which, of course, said not to feed the animals.
My friend Tom felt sorry for the animals because he thought they were unhappy in captivity. In fact, he believed that the leopards paced back and forth because they wanted to be free. We asked a zoo guard about this, and he told us that animals live longer and happier in zoos than they do in the wilds. The guard also told us that leopards pace by habit, and he felt they preferred their zoo home rather than facing the dangers of the jungle. He said, though, that this was only speculation on his part.
The guard also said that many zoo animals know no other life because they were born in captivity and would feel traumatized outside of their zoo homes.
The zoo animals lived in enclosures and, at Lincoln Park Zoo, cages were either barred or strung with wire, but the enclosures for snakes and monkeys were made of glass, because wire or bars would not contain snakes, and monkeys are susceptible to certain human diseases, so glass would protect them from the human visitors.
At Brookfield Zoo, I noticed that the apes were surrounded by water filled ditches. Apes cannot swim, so the moats would keep them far from the public. Behind the moats, I saw mountain goats climb what were abbreviated copies of their homes in the Rockies, and lions stalked about on flat, grassy areas or rocky ledges.
My friends and I were curious as to what the animals ate, so we asked a caretaker who told us that each animal ate food carefully planned by zoo chefs to meet their special needs. The chefs, we were told, prepared mixtures of minerals, vitamins, and basic foods to keep the animals healthy and content.
The main foods that made up meals for the animals, as I recall, were eggs, fish, fruit, grains, horsemeat, and vegetables.
The caretaker told us that some of the animals didn’t like the food that they were given. He said some gorillas dislike bananas and would rather eat grain, and some anteaters would prefer raw meat and eggs.
Certain items can make animals sick, and we saw thoughtless people throw tinfoil and candy wrappers at the animals, but caretakers told us that animals generally know what not to eat, and they rarely overeat.
If animals did get sick, on-site veterinarians took care of them in the zoo hospital.
One day when we were leaving one of the animal houses at Lincoln Park Zoo, I saw a full-length mirror next to the exit door.
A sign above this mirror said to look in the mirror and you’ll see the most dangerous animal on the earth.