I’d come to Brisbane, I’d done a bit of research into things to do in Brisbane. The answer seemed to be “not a lot”, but one place everyone told me I had to visit was Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. I don’t like zoos in general, and from what I’d seen of Steve Irwin on TV, I could imagine the kind of over-the-top tourist trap his theme park come zoo might be, but I did want to actually get to see some native Australian animals before I left, and with the short time (and even shorter funds) available to me the zoo unfortunately seemed the best way to do that.
I mentioned my plan to servalan, lytteltonwitch, and steelman, and they decided to come along too. So we loaded up with books to release and headed to the railway station to catch a train up to the Sunshine Coast, where the zoo is. Unfortunately, the area wasn’t living up to its name, and by the time we reached the station where we were to transfer to a courtesy bus to take us the last few km to the zoo, it was pouring with rain. Real tropical rain. But we refused to let that ruin our day, bought cheap plastic rain ponchos from the zoo’s giftshop, and set off to explore the zoo.
On one level, I suppose it was a good zoo. The animal enclosures were generally large and provided plenty of activity and stimulation for the animals, and the concentration was mostly on native species. But there was a huge emphasis on the public being able to touch the animals – there were areas where you could pat a koala or a kangaroo, you could line up to feed animals by hand, and there were keepers walking around all the time carrying animals in their arms so that people could touch them. And that made me feel really uncomfortable – the exploitative “animals as entertainment” side of ordinary zoos is bad enough, but at least I can justify that to myself (sort of) by thinking of the valuable research and conservation work good zoos do, which is only paid for by the entry fees of people coming to be entertained. But Australia Zoo seemed to take that to a whole new level, and although there were keepers always on hand to explain how to approach the animals so as not to make them nervous, and although the animals seemed to have become acclimatised to people, every time I saw a child trying to hug a kangaroo, or pulling at a koala’s fur, or an adult patting one roughly like you would a dog, I felt awful.
And then there was the show. There is a large stadium-like structure in the zoo, and several times a day the keepers put on a show there, displaying some of their animals (aparently if Steve Irwin often appears in the show himself, but he was out of town that day, so we were spared his presence – unfortunately, his replacement was doing his best to emulate his employer’s style…) The show was what really ruined the day for me – snakes, crocodiles, and tigers were brought out and made to entertain the crowd. There was a token gesture towards education (hey kids, does anyone know what you should do if a snake bites you?), but mostly the show seemed to be aimed at showing us how brave the keepers were to be able to handle such dangerous animals. It was as bad as a wild animal act in a circus, and I was feeling sick by the end.
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Oh well, at least I got to see kangaroos and koalas and kookaburras and cassowarys and emus and crocodiles and snakes and lizards and parrots (and a few non-natives, like a Galapagos tortise that supposedly was once owned by Darwin (that’s her under the red light)).
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It was too wet to release many books at the zoo (I only released All Through the Night by Mary Higgins Clark), but when we got back to Brisbane we released a few more:
The Partisan by Clare Nonhebel
War Moon by Tom Cooper
Emma’s Family by Elizabeth Daish