Author's Note: continuing improving my travelogue of a trip taken back in January, this was day three and is mostly comprised of my thoughts upon zoos, especially a zoo forced into a subzero climate.

Dreams of discomfort oft make for rough awakenings. I awake late, throw some clothes on, and rush out to today's attraction: Burger's Zoo.

Reading the novel location names posted upon the transit screens (when they are able to function properly, at least) makes me rather excited. Doetinchem. Wijchen. Het Duifje. All names utterly foreign to me, and no doubt each carrying a story or two I would enjoy hearing. What is not as unfamiliar to the Randstader in me, though, are the delays. Delays here seem as common as back in the Groene Hart despite the direct competition between two rail companies.

My tardiness is further nourished by bus confusion. It always strikes me as odd, remarkable even, to think that despite all the accumulated knowledge of bus logistics and busline management we still struggle to regularly communicate signage: bus numbers, platforms, and directions. There will always be more to learn, but I do wish we would start learning.

Burger's Zoo

I am of two minds about zoos. In my youth, back in my desert home valley, I proudly volunteered for years as a Junior Keeper at my local zoo. Though cages and confinement ring harshly on our human ears, I was fortunate to witness the "better versions" of such dominance, as well as the benefits that can be sought accordingly (for the betterment of humans and non-humans alike). In my adult-minded ages, I see the limitations to my childhood optimism.

I am uncertain if the answer is simply to make the enclosures larger or more similar to the animals' natural environment. I am uncertain, further, if the theme park-ification of such habitations is a fair or just approach; if the long term benefits outweigh the short term atrocities, even. Today, however, my thoughts are on the temperature.

Again, it is six below zero degrees centigrade today - even colder accounting for wind. That seems brutal for the majority of the animals housed by this one-time pheasantry from 1913.[^1] Mercifully, most of the animals are secured inside the indoor portions of their enclosures, if their enclosure were not already entirely within a structure to begin with.

Some animals seemed rather comfortable with the cold. That said, observing them wandering within the outdoors section of their enclosures could equally be interpreted as a sign of pure boredom. These animals included various gazelle and deer species, two of the Big Cats (lion and jaguar), and a few unfortunate birds lacking an indoor branch of their enclosure.

Like many zoos, Burger's Zoo houses many isolated and simulated ecosystems. As a desert rat by birth, I am instinctively drawn to the desert-fabricated ecosystem. Interestingly, considering the weather, the desert biome location has frozen roofs and water drips inside in multiple locations. Mercifully, though, it seems the animals of my home climate are less perturbed by this fact than I am; another benefit of instinctual living, I presume.

The cold creates a wax museum-esque effect across the entire zoo park. Desperate cold-blooded creatures and agitated warm-blooded ones. The frost seems unnatural yet mundane to these creatures. Similar, I suppose, to the low minimum wage across many metropoles of Neoliberal societies: entirely untenable, but as commonplace as the air we have yet to be charged to enjoy. Still, even the humid jungle biome has a chill that seems out of place to my amateur zoologist's eye.

As grand as the zoo is, two experiences repeat here that illustrate to me arguments against the keeping of zoos as beneficial institutions to a society hoping to be ever more just: monkey intelligence and pure economics.

To take the less obvious one first, that of pure economics, many Dutch zoos have an odd tendency of charging full price for a day at a park that they know is incomplete. Countless times has one paid a full ticket price (often around the 20 EUR mark) to only find out during their day out that an exhibit, wing, or entire building is out of commission. It irks me that such developments are ignored completely at the front office and the news is never conveyed to a potential customer, instead just a disappointment to an already paying guest. In the management crisis of companies around here, should any zoo be run no better (or different) than yet another Poke Bowl restaurant that popped up just two years ago, there is little reason to keep them around, indeed. For the sake of the society and the animals.

The more obvious observation that makes me truly question the legitimacy or benevolence of our zoological endeavours is the one of monkey intelligence. Monkey intelligence makes the thought of forced captivity an uncomfortable one, indeed. The chimpanzees at this zoo seemed cold and bored. The kind of cold and bored I've felt sitting in a flat, heating and plumbing broken, peeling an onion and staring at a crack in the ceiling. The kind of cold and bored I adored most during a Soviet winter, and one I would not quickly wish upon others easily. The kind of cold and bored that seemed human. There are long discussions regarding the legitimacy of Darwinian evolution as a theory of human origins. While I still joke that a simple trip to the Johan Cruyff Arena when Ajax is playing will make one understand the legitimacy of our alleged primate ancestors, being face-to-face with these chimpanzees offers another, hard-to-ignore feeling of connectivity.

For the record's sake, these chimps were not in danger. Their indoor habitat was heated to the best of its infrastructure's ability, they had each other and were cuddling while conserving energy and bundling up in their hay beds. A nicer fate indeed than myself, breath vapor visible, fighting with six self-harvested potatoes to make some dinner.

After a half hour of sitting with the chimpanzees and the humans who passed by them, as I often wind up doing with zoo visits, the rest becomes a blurred circuit between the biomes, exhibits, and eateries around the park. I enjoy the little map they give us, and the detours that the guests' path allows. The following are the notes from my journal during the remainder of the day:

- These animals are products of nature, they are born to fight. Thinking that segmenting these creatures into their own cubicles is an odd attempt at longevity if we are to look at when we, as humans, attempted similar to ourselves in 2020. Some desperately clung to the isolation, others tolerated it, and others still were enraged by the very notion. Either way, many agree the experiment of self-imposed enclosure failed to bring us closer to one another at a time when it was needed, and perhaps it even accomplished the converse.

- Zoos offer moving experiences, no doubt. Children of settlement can witness a glimpse of the vibrancy of the splendour and frenzy that forged our human ancestors over the course of millennia. Sadly, this is a reality of modernity: we pay with our coin for the lessons that should be paid for with experience. It reminds me of a prayer that haunts me whenever I stomach a craving for playing some Skyrim or Minecraft: _"Pray for us with gentleness, for our adventures are produced, fabricated or digital; we can merely pay for them in gold."_

- These birds are kings, disgraced to be eating out of mere plastic. Even the kookaburra sees no reason to laugh in its current circumstance.

The zoo trip concludes, I adjust myself again to the freezing climate outdoors and seek the bus back to the city proper. Zoos are a better utilisation of this civilisation's prowess with Themed Entertainment. If it could focus more on local flora and fauna I think it would fulfil a greater purpose, its education more applicable to daily life (and ultimately help shape well-equipped citizens), but it would not likely be able to charge nearly 20 EUR a ticket. That said, requiring such a high price tag for a ticket might be part of the problem in the first place.

One final excerpt from my notebook covering this trip is found hastily scribbled under a dog-eared page filled with unrelated ideas. The anecdote, already almost forgotten now, was of a dead bird I found while in a viewing room for the lions:

A dead bird, bested by the frost, in a view cabin. I move it so that a child does not find it first. As I leave the viewing cabin, however, I think it is the children who are meant to find such things. They will learn of death before too long, what am I really saving them from? A good story?

Thus concludes this trip's ponderings upon animals in captivity.

"May you live as long as your trees"


[^1]: Oddly, and I am uncertain why this is, one of the few species that would seem to be accustomed to such drops in temperature, the Vulnerable yet Secure and Noble Rangifer tarandus, or common reindeer, were removed from the park just in 2022.