Over the years, I have visited the Brookfield Zoo (as well as many other zoos from around the country) countless times. For the most part, the Brookfield Zoo has been a paradise for photographers. Interesting subjects are relatively close by. And, the Brookfield Zoo generally uses moats (rather than more obstructive glass, cages, fencing) to separate visitors from the animals.
In recent years, I feel that the zoo experience has diminished. Perhaps it's that I'm gaining a greater appreciation of the price that's being paid by a wild animal being held in captivity. Most animals yearn to be free. And, animals that know nothing other than captivity (that's even sadder) eventually lose their purpose for being--they no longer practice the productive skills that they utilize in the wild.
Zoos serve a purpose. Zoos are critical for educating people on the necessity of preserving our wild places and our wild animals. But, when I see a majestic lion or bear pacing endlessly in a small loop (as I did today)--I feel sorry for the animal that is paying the price for our education. Also during my visit today, I was saddened to see a giant anteater pacing in a tight circle for nearly 15 consecutive minutes. I feel even sadder for the animal after I've witnessed how much this contrasts with how they behave in the wild.
But, let's make the assumption (a valid one) that zoos play an important role in educating the public and in promoting conservation. Even so, I would like to see our zoos allocate more space to the animals and a bit less to the people. Earlier this week, I visited the Brookfield Zoo--and noticed that many of the recent renovations are all about the people and very little about the animals. For example, the biggest money right now is being spent on expanding the entrance road and stations into the zoo. Other recent initiatives that are evident are the restroom renovations and event spaces.
As I walk around the Zoo, I notice many exhibits that have been closed for quite some time--or have transitioned into something else (not allocated to animals). For example, the old bear exhibits have sat empty for many years. A while back, the Zoo covered these empty exhibits with colorful plywood. The baboon island has been empty for years--and will eventually be replaced with something else I suppose. The jellyfish exhibit disappeared in favor of a peacock statue after thousands of jellyfish died there. The Pachyderm House sits half empty--and there hasn't been an elephant housed in that exhibit for years. The old Reptile House has been converted into administrative offices.
So, as you look at the map of the Brookfield Zoo, you'll notice that most of it is RED...those are areas devoted to people activities: parking lots, a carousel (really?), restrooms, parks, restaurants, concession stands, an event area, playgrounds, fountains, etc. The area where the captive animals are free to roam are colored in YELLOW. WHITE represents areas within box that are not controlled by the Zoo.
So, what percentage of this area is allocated to the animals? Maybe 5-10% of this already relatively small area in the western suburbs of Chicago? How much of the Zoo's property is dedicated to parking? Maybe 20%? I think we can do better than this.