Sunday, February 24, 2008

Zoo Doo

I've been feeling rather down on zoos since I read Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening From The Nightmares Of Zoos by Derrick Jensen in the November 2007 issue of The Sun. I was so disturbed by the essay, I seriously considered canceling my zoo membership.

Warren argued in favor of the educational benefits of the zoo, and I couldn't ignore my children's desire to visit. But what made me keep that little plastic card in my wallet is the fact that the Memphis Zoo is located in Overton Park next to the Old Forest. The Old Forest is a constant source of information and inspiration to my family. Because we visit it way more frequently than we visit the Zoo, my children have first-hand knowledge of how animals live in the wild...and what the wild is--at least on a small scale. If we did not have the Old Forest to balance out the view of animals that the Zoo presents, I couldn't continue to visit.

Just today I went to the Memphis Zoo to buy a membership for my sister. It's her birthday and she has a two-year-old, so I thought it would be nice.

Turns out, it was. She was thrilled with the gift.

However, I'm having a little buyer's remorse after reading the latest post at Gates of Memphis which shows pictures of the large area of Old Forest that the Zoo recently clearcut in order to build a new exhibit.

After buying the membership for my sister, I went home to meet my husband, my children, my dogs, my friend, and her son for a hike through the Old Forest. As we walked down a trail we've walked down at least a hundred times, we stopped and stared in amazement at something we've never noticed before: A tree growing on top of the trunk of a huge fallen tree. It's roots reached over the uprooted trunk of the dead tree and lunged into the ground on the other side. It was unfathomable. I simply couldn't wrap my mind around how the smaller tree had ended up where it was and how it was surviving. We spent a good thirty minutes investigating the two trees (and their resident mushrooms) from all angles before being able to tear ourselves away.

Next, on our same old trail, I discovered a turtle shell that was completely white. If you looked closely you could see small teeth marks where animals had been snacking on it.

Finally, Satchel found a fallen branch that was so decayed that it crumbled under his feet. A few feet away Warren pointed out a burl that had fallen off of a tree. We all gathered around to check out the sap underneath.

It was just an ordinary day in a most extraordinary place. I left feeling high and in love with my city for preserving this small patch of heaven for me and my family to enjoy. The Zoo, and everyone else for that matter, better keep their fucking chainsaws away from my Old Forest.

The Zoo's (Seriously Hypocritical) Mission Statement
To use science and technology for greater understanding of the natural world's ecosystems, to preserve the biodiversity of our plants and animals and to educate the public on conservation priorities.

At the Memphis Zoo, we have dedicated ourselves to "preserving wildlife through conservation, education and research". As the number of plants and animals threatened with extinction grows, the Memphis Zoo is working to expedite conservation, research and sustainable development in order to preserve our natural world.

We are committed to developing programs that will have a significant impact upon the long-term success and partnerships necessary for conservation.

The Zoo's (Seriously Deluded) Officers
Carol W. Prentiss, Chairman
Gene Holcomb, Treasurer
Joseph C. DeWane, MD, Secretary
James B. Jalenak, Immediate Past Chair

The Zoo's Contact Information (That We All Seriously Need To Use)
2000 Prentiss Place, Memphis, TN 38112
(901) 276-WILD or 276-9453

Or write a letter to the editor of the Commercial Appeal. Email to or mail/deliver to The Commercial Appeal, 495 Union Ave, Memphis TN 38103. Be sure to include your name, home address and telephone number. They will call you within a few days to confirm if they plan to print your letter.