Up close and personal . . .
I spent a few hours at Melbourne Zoo this week,
whilst in Melbourne for the Writers’ Festival. Many years ago when we lived in Melbourne, through my husband’s position we had been Friends of The Zoo (FOTZ). We used to attend early mornings and have breakfast there before the zoo opened to the public: it was the most exciting thing . . . to hear the animals waking, watching them let out from their enclosures and fed, and knowing no one else apart from keepers and other staff were on the grounds at the time. When we left Melbourne more than 18 years ago, it is honestly the thing I missed more than anything because Tasmania has no large specialist ‘exotic animal’ zoo.
Because of me being lame, we decided early on what we wanted to see and chose the orangutans
(I’m a member of the Australian Orangutan Project), the gorilla enclosure and the Primate display,
and the elephants because Melbourne had recently had an elephant birth.
In eighteen years, the zoo gardens have grown to lush jungle capacity.
As you can see from the images, it is hard to determine if we are in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand. The incidental landscaping of village-type houses and sheds, altars and other ephemera is extremely authentic.
We’ve never been so close to an orangutan.
We spent ages watching their dexterity, their problem-solving, their wise, wise ways. We left when one of the young females half-covered herself in a jute bag as if she was meditating and when another of the elders slipped inside a wool-bale, blocking off the public view. It was a discrete message: ‘leave us now, we want our privacy.’
Likewise the gorillas had secreted themselves in the lush shrubbery. Schools were visiting and there was noise and they prefer their peace. The new Sumatran tiger-cubs were all asleep.
The other primates were busy watching humans.
But Mali the baby elephant was too busy having fun to worry about anything other than the pigeons in her enclosure. You could see her thoughts: ‘I’m gonna catch those fluttery things if it’s the last thing I do!’ She’d back off on her tiny (!) stumpy legs and then charge and when they would fly above her and land behind her, she would trumpet, turn and try again.
She balanced on rocks, tried to prise a lock off a ‘rock’ that was actually the pump for the elephant’s pool, ran everywhere and ignored Mum completely. Welcomed Auntie into the enclosure with a trumpet and a kiss from a short little trunk. We spent ages watching them and they confirmed our knowledge of the strong clan affection within an elephant’s group.
When we left, I said to my husband that every animal in the zoo from the smallest butterfly to the biggest elephant represented an animal under threat in the wild. And all because of man’s unutterable selfishness. We talked to the handlers at the gorilla enclosure and they informed us that Melbourne Zoo has become a designated ‘endangered species supporter’. It’s so reassuring to know that animals like the orang and the Sumatran tiger, so terribly under threat, are now being bred in captivity and educating the human race at the same time.
It was the best few hours we’ve spent for a long time!