We’re on holiday, but not away, this week and next. So we are trying to have a few days out, weather permitting which it didn’t on Monday and Tuesday.
Yesterday we went to London Zoo. I’ve not been to the Zoo since I was a teenager (the Snowdon Aviary wasn’t long open) – so over 40 years ago! And Noreen has never been despite having lived in London for over 30 years and done most of the tourist things.
What a disappointment. I’m glad I went, but to be honest I probably won’t bother again. Although we didn’t look at everything, we did see a large proportion. Now I know we’re all used to seeing animals in action in 5 second “vision bites” on TV, and that in reality most animals spend a lot of their day doing very little. But even allowing for that I found the “exhibits” dull. Why?
Many of the indoor enclosures looked drab, dull, unexciting and almost uncared for. Which I know does an injustice to the keepers, as they care greatly about giving their animals the best possible environment. The indoor spaces were frankly rather tatty and in need of a good coat of paint; not really surprising when you look at the number of pairs of feet walking round.
I suppose the thing which struck me most was the lack of variety. Sure there are birds and reptiles; fish; mammals of all types and sizes; insects and bugs. But I felt there was not enough variety of each, although of course space is very limited and one has to provide enough room for the number of visitors as well as the animals and staff as well as having some exhibit spaces empty and being refurbished. Nevertheless I felt that many of the animals are still kept in inadequately sized accommodation – specifically I don’t feel it ethical to keep an owl in an aviary where it doesn’t get a good long flightpath (20 x 30 x 8 feet high really doesn’t feel large enough!).
And the limitations of space, and even money, don’t excuse labels which were uninformative to anyone except a 10 year-old doing their school project. The science content of the labels for people like me was non-existent. OK, I set a high standard because I’m a scientist, but there should be something there to capture me too; I also need to be made to say “Heavens, I never knew that!” And by doing this you stretch other visitors and make them think. It’s a hard task; yes a lot of the labelling has to enthuse the school kids and the less well educated; that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some (not all) information at a higher level.
And heavens the number of school kids! The whole place was crawling with school parties – all ages from 5 to 15 (or more). It’s a bit much when the noise of the kids drowns out the local starlings and the London traffic! Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that the kids are there and hopefully showing some interest (especially in a pair of turtles having it off! – the whole group of 8 year-olds had their mobile phones out taking photos!). Yes, they are the future and we need to catch ’em young and get them enthused about science in all forms. But it I would have felt more sanguine about it if I thought they were learning something and not just wandering round ticking boxes on the project sheet or meandering aimlessly. Most of the teachers didn’t seem too interested either, except to try to rein the kids in a bit; they weren’t doing any much teaching.
As a fishkeeper the area I really wanted to see was the Aquarium. Frankly I felt that this was a disgrace. Half the exhibit space appeared to be boarded off, with no word of explanation. Was it because it is being rebuilt; refurbished; closed because unrepairable (the building is old now); there isn’t the money to run it? Why? Nothing; just blank dark blue hoarding in a space so dark one could hardly see where one was walking. The tanks which were in use were to my mind unexciting and all too small. Yes there was a variety of freshwater and salt-water fish, tropical and temperate; but with a few exceptions (like large Tambaqui, fragile seahorses and quantities of anemones and corals) nothing a good amateur aquarist couldn’t keep at least as well. And almost nothing about crustaceans, shellfish, seaweed and no really good biotype displays.
So what was good? The staff were all helpful. The grounds are immaculately kept. Some exhibits were good. The penguins and meercats were an especial and unexpected delight. As was the large tiger dozing against the wall of his enclosure, literally just a foot the other side of the Plexiglas from us. Likewise the two very asleep, and very beautiful, Servals looking like oversized spotted domestic cats. The Lubetkin Penguin Pool is still there (it is Grade I listed) and refurbished but not in use (sad; I hope a use can be found for it other than for wire sculptures of insects). Noreen enjoyed the rainforest displays. The café is decent, even if not cheap (but then where is?). And the loos were spotless despite the hoards of kids.
I’m sure there is more that’s good – we didn’t see everything – but that doesn’t feel like a good return on the almost £20 admission price. Sad, really; very sad.
And there are a few of my photos of the animals over on Flickr; hopefully more to come later.