This piece is a reflection on a group day trip to a small local tourist attraction, Dudley Zoological Gardens and Castle, a historical monument with a zoo laid out in the grounds. Not the biggest or the best, but at least they are trying.
The early morning routine was almost complete and the animals, already heat weary, were glad of a little peace to pick at the snacks left by the cleaners before settling back into the cool of their concrete bunkers which, although no replacement for native timber and greenery, few now could remember any such thing anyway with clarity.
With one set of annoyance out of the way, the background hub-bub of traffic circling the mound too had quietened from the twice daily rush hour into a gently rumble and crunch that could easily be ignored. For some, a return to fitful sleep recalled dreams of paradise, if now only imbedded in their DNA.
A gangly limbed Gelada juvenile snatched a handful of fur from his older sibling and scampered off up the steep hill away from retribution. Unfortunately, he went head first into the towering, heavily maned figure of his father calmly looking out over his dry domain. A well-timed scratch to the inside of his leg stopped the youngster doing him any real injury at the collision, but a sideways swipe soon put the bemused infant back into the pecking order.
The alien clunking metal of the chair lift overhead held no interest for either so they failed to notice that not all the travellers on the ancient yellow and rust coloured contraption could bear to look down into the enclosure below. The mixture of a freezing fear of heights and memories from encounters far too close, kept the two domains well apart.
Higher up, and under a degree of tree shade, a single dish-like bejowled face peered around the rusted metal frame of a square doorway, but there was nothing of interest to expend energy on and he shuffled back into the mounded straw of his night bedding. ‘Let them play spot the animal for a few hours more’ was his reasoning, and rolled over comfortably in his orange coat to suck the juice of a breakfast orange before closing hooded eyes, and sleep.
The levels of chatter had begun to rise and tiny fluorescent jackets scampered hand-in-hand in pairs, only roughly in crocodile lines, hopeful of seeing at least one living thing move behind the wire and glass. Unfortunately, the biggest movement they were treated to, was the twitching of a wild dog’s ear, but even this was hard to spot deep in the camouflaged shade.
More mature conversation held no interest for the residents of the shoddy enclosures either. Knowing full well that they were not going to get any tip-bits of food, was a lesson long learnt and, even with direct access to these upright bipeds as they walked through the wooded enclose, the younger lemurs went about their ritual competition for who could call the loudest without waking the parents but satisfyingly, annoying their larger cousins skulking elsewhere in the trees.
With heat building, there was no need for a clock to know that the wanderers would soon be sitting down with their bags and bottles which, for those lucky enough to have free reign of the place, was time to get on stage. A silent sweep of eye spotted feathers gave the best show of the day, which he knew of course, although his rather dowdier mate had seen it all before and she bobbed away to look for bits to peck at. The show was overly appreciated; but then he knew it always would be. A commotion nearby was drawing away the audience and even this iridescent shimmer of splendour was not enough to keep them interested.
At the opposite end of the beauty scale, the grey scabby bulk of a bull sealion was duly playing out his role for a smiling couple who had paid handsomely for the privilege of getting covered in fish guts and being within millimetres of a creature who could easily inflict great damage. Once more, he really couldn’t be bothered, so after the three small sprats which were not even an appetiser for someone weighing half a ton, he glided effortlessly away with his females spinning dutifully around him.
This affinity with food was the only thing that the diverse if otherwise unconnected species, had in common, but each new it was something they could use to get what they wanted, if only in the moment, not the greater scheme of things of course; freedom was, regretfully, only a relative concept. This food matter was not quite as brazen as the ‘blood diamonds for weapons’ trade of their native central Africa but, mealworms for a picture opportunity seemed a fair exchange in the Pigmy Marmoset world, or the Red Panda existence, although not even this motivation was enough for over-heated Howler Monkeys or a sweltering Snow Leopard who could only dream of its natural icy domain.
Curiously, the smallest of the captive residents seemed to get the greatest reaction from the alpha predator humans. Contrived to be the most interesting part of a now crumbled stone history, an unrealistic terror at the sight of glass bound mice and rats was guaranteed amongst the large if faded remains of the historical summit.
The sun was dropping yet again on another pointless day and the bored macaws scratched the backs of their heads and, in nodded silent agreement, waddled through the hole in the mock stone wall to huddle together until the next round of uncommunicative faces showed up.
The chairlift, still swinging up and down, remained empty for the rest of the day, the downhill exit being easier for those who could leave, all-be-it via the glitzy gift emporium.
The shaggy coated Baboons were as uninterested as ever, but the children continued to play tag and annoy their father if they could get away with it; the only other youngsters were long gone in their fluorescent jackets back to school.
A quiet settled once more which, curiously but unfortunately for the paying public, heralded the greatest degree of activity throughout the mis-matched mound of wild-life that, rather desperately, had long lost its wild side. Maybe by keeping out of the way, they had the right idea all along?