Zoos make me sad – wild animals, captured and caged, under stimulated and overfed, watched by a contingent of humans with similar problems, only the humans at least have a choice in the matter. Zoos tame and often damage wilderness rather than conserve it, and what is worse quite often fail to educate even their staff, let alone visitors, to the plight of animals in the wild. So as usual I had low expectations for the Birds of Eden, and even lower for Monkeyland. But finding myself there, decided to make the best of it. And what a fantastic surprise!
Birds of Eden
This is basically a massive net, strung over a densely forested valley, with wooden walkways and bridges giving easy access everywhere. The forest is full to bursting with rescued birds. They come from zoos, circuses, private owners, other sanctuaries, and wildlife vets. They fly freely well above the canopy, are fed daily, have streams and ponds and trees or all kinds and sizes and are protected from every danger. Most are familiar with people, a few landed on our shoulders, and one Ibis wanted his head scratched for hours. The sanctuary is a fair trade business, paying fair wages and sourcing fruit and feed from eco-conscious suppliers. The birds live out their lives in a paradise, and are looked after in every way by researchers and vets. It left us all feeling positive, and glad to have supported such a wonderful and unique place. Every type of bird from Toucans and Hornbills to Scarlet Ibis and Zebra Finches lives in harmony together. A classic tourist trap, and one of the most peaceful and restorative experiences that can be bought anywhere.
Nextdoor to Bitds of Eden, a similar sanctuary looks after rescued monkeys. These are free to come and go as they please, and have the run of a massive range of wilderness. Most are South American species, rescued from private homes, zoos and circuses all over Africa. They are fed daily, to supplement their diet with food from their natural habitats, and largely stay around the park out of choice, despite the large and vatied population there. From the tiny Squirrel Monkeys to elegant Spectacled Langurs, most are relaxed around people, and as food is never taken inside, not very interested in stealing from people either. It was lovely to see them so happy and healthy, free to roam and explore, with no bars in sight. A wonderful place for captive monkeys to live out their lives, and another that left a good feeling.
After the freedom of the first two sanctuaries, seeing elegant big cats in small enclosures, fattened daily with dead meat and contraceptives, was a sad sight indeed. These cats were all rescued from closing zoos, game farms, private owners and circuses. None had known the wild, or learned to hunt. Overweight and unfit, they will live out their lives in enclosures the size of a large garden, with nothing to do but pace the fences and wait for feeding time. These cats, unlike the birds and monkeys, are not happy. I can’t help but feel they should be freed in a reserve somewhere to take their chances, but hand reared cats can rarely catch their own food. The evil has been done already, taking the wild from them, and even this sanctuary can never give it back.
With only 250 Siberian tigers left in the wild, and those in activity inbred to the point of partial blindness and other congenital disorders, they are a symbol of our short-sighted selfishness, and I am ashamed.