Saturday, September 03, 2005

My Girl and Her Cub

The following experience occurred following a research trip in February 2005.

The young Bengal tiger fought to keep the bottle in his mouth. I remained frozen, watching unbelievably as my seven year-old Meikina held the bottle over its head, carefully cradling it as the beautiful cat ate hungrily from the bottle in her hand.

Few things demonstrate the vast cultural differences between China and the U.S. more ably than a visit to Guangzhou's Panyu Wildlife Safari Zoo. My first visit to this place was in 2002 when I came here with my newly adopted daughter Meigon and Meikina. On that trip we were able to pet a bear cub, shake hands with a seal, and give bananas to the elephants.

I am not a fan of zoos. I struggle to balance the incredible sadness I see in the faces of the animals, especially the primates, with the lessons in appreciation I hope will be gained by my children. I believe that sometimes the balance isn't found, as in the case of Guangzhou's City Zoo, where small cages result in endless pacing by the big cats and other inhabitants. Even the Chinese don't like going there.

But the Panyu zoo is a different story. Most of the exhibits are large, open-air in design. The animals seem well fed and maintained. But it is the proximity that the zoo allows that I feel most impressive.

Next to the tiger cub exhibit was a gorgeous mature white tiger, lying magnificently on a wooden platform. For 30 yuan ($3.75) you could sit down next to him and have your picture taken. Where in the U.S. can one go and sit next to such a fine specimen of nature? Further down was an arena where lion cubs played with some dogs and goats (a motley group, I must admit). As my daughters peered over the railing, a curious lion cub walked over and lifted her head, bringing herself within a foot of the faces of my daughters. They could smell her breath.

A favorite tradition of ours is to watch the Elephant show, and then have our picture taken on top of one of the stars. All of my girls took turns climbing up, and I stood next to the Elephant, gently scratching its ear, while it wrapped its trunk around my arm and gave it a squeeze. It felt like I was next to an old friend.

I have often felt a connection as I have gotten close to animals. I see it in the eyes of my pet dogs, and I have seen it in the eyes of other animals I have gotten close to. The one thing all of these experiences had was that I was able to get close, much closer than is ever allowed in the zoos and animal parks in the U.S. I believe it is this proximity of man to animal that teaches our
children to respect the life others, to appreciate the many different and wonderful creatures we find on this beautiful earth.

But our culture has become a culture of fear. Businesses (including zoos) see each visitor as a potential multi-million dollar lawsuit. Thus, to protect themselves (and the animals) they isolate and prevent any contact between the inhabitants and the visitors. It's too bad, because I yearn to give my children the appreciation for life that close contact with animals brings.

I'm sure the days of such opportunities are limited even in China. But while they remain, you can bet I will be here as often as possible, letting my girls feed the elephants, stroke the seals, and give the milk bottle to a tiger cub.


Anonymous said...

While in Kunming in early August 2005 with my oldest daughter, Mikaelie Long Yan (9), we discovered this amazing ability to get close to the animals. At the end of the "show" at the new Kunming Zoo, audience members were invited to go sit on the tiger. At first we gazed with horrified wonderment as child after child was placed on this huge male tiger! Then, my husband and I thought "whenever will she get a chance like this again?" Amazing, absolutely amazing. I did however worry if CPS was going to be there to meet us at the airport for child endangerment!
Thank you for your blogsite. It is especially poignant to me, as Kunming will not allow any contact with Foster Parents at all!

Anonymous said...

For folks to be able to get that close to wild animals the animals must have been severly trained.
so, while it is magical for you, at what cost to the animals did that come from?