Sunday, 17 February 2013

We Can Share the World

Zoo adventures

For my husband's 32nd birthday, we headed off to Chester Zoo, Britain's biggest and most successful animal sanctuary. We have been inspired by the David Attenborough's latest series on Africa, a six-episode documentary following the lives of the smallest to the largest animals that inhabit the sweeping savannahs and the dense rain forests of the world's second largest continent, and fascinated by their impressive survival skills in a planet that is increasingly dominated by the growing population that now threatens their natural habitat. 

I have been to Manila Zoo as a child when I first visited the Philippine capital before giant malls sprung up and became the local 'tourist attractions'. My memories from this experience were not particularly pleasant: endless rows of metal wire cages where animals were squeezed in like prisoners without a trial and large animals in open spaces taunted by some crazy visitor with no respect for other forms of life. I never asked why the animals were there or if they would have been better off where they came from. I reacted as how I would have for most of my life, with passive acceptance that people (or animals) have to suffer and we can't do anything about it. I readily assumed that the zoo would have been a better place for them, there at least they would have been fed regularly.

This was John's first trip to the zoo. His closest encounter with the elephants had been in the wilderness of Zimbabwe on a family visit to relatives when he was 14 before Mugabe made the South African country a dangerous place for white people. He remembers how sitting in his uncle's veranda, surrounded by a deafening silence while watching the setting sun turn the sky bright orange, he suddenly heard the lions roar from a distance. "In Africa", he says, "you do not own the land; the land owns you. Most people have forgotten this." Perhaps this life-forming experience has fuelled his passion for the conservation of the natural world and becoming an avid supporter of WWF.

The trip to the zoo had been more educational than I have anticipated. I have seen most of these animals before but I never really looked at them, at what fascinating creatures they are, forced to live in an environment that looked like their natural habitat but not quite. Perhaps they are happy in the zoo, fed regularly and cared for by competent professionals but perhaps they would rather have stayed where they came from. Yet it was apparent that most of them didn't really have a choice because their natural environment has been swallowed by human 'progress'. 

It wasn't a surprise that in some sections of the zoo, I have found animals that are native only to where I came from, most of them endangered and some largely extinct. The Philippines has once been a land covered almost entirely (95%) by rain forests and the seas inhabited by the most diverse marine communities on earth. But a growing population over years of mismanagement and greed has taken its toll and today only 7% of this forest cover has remained and continues to be 'threatened by booming rural populations living in severe poverty who are clearing forests for agriculture' [see The World's Top Ten Most Threatened Forests ]

If the government is not doing anything, I was comforted at least by the fact that conservation groups like Chester Zoo is trying to rehabilitate some of these forests and save the lives of these fascinating species that remain. Their conservation efforts have been highlighted on this trip and I hope that by sharing this experience, I could make my fellow countrymen take notice of the environmental issues that concern our land. 

Another BBC documentary, Wonders of Life by Professor Brian Cox concluded on the third episode: 
"When you go outside tomorrow, just take a look at a little piece of your world, to that corner of your garden or a park or even the grass that is growing in a crack in the pavement. Because there will be life there and it will be unique and there will be nowhere like that anywhere else in the Universe and that makes Earth's Tree of Life from the sturdiest branch to the most fragile twig indescribably valuable."
It is every human being's responsibility to look after our planet because a world that has lost its ecological balance would naturally die off. At least this part of the world where I am now has acknowledged this and is passionately doing something about it.


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