Friday 28 May 2010

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

When I broke my wrist four years ago, I was just about to go to Australia to drive from Sydney to Canberra. As I thought the hire car company would take a dim view of my driving in a cast, I took along with me the sister who'd given me first aid when I fell off the stairs, to be chauffeur. It was fun, even though we had to share a double bed a couple of times - that was a trip back in time, for sure - and once we'd sorted out the bossy-older-sister thing that had her telling me, "That's interesting, write that down!"
The highlight of the visit was going to the Australian War Memorial, which is a fabulous museum-cum-memorial with a huge range of really well displayed exhibits, and dioramas to die for (I'm a sucker from way back for a good diorama, and have the series of forehead bruises to prove it). It's fascinating, and solemn, and moving, and must be wither-wringing on Anzac Day.
But it was also pretty special to take the behind-the-scenes tour at the zoo, where we were delighted to find ourselves feeding (with comfortingly long-handled tongs) lions, tigers, cougars, and bears. I'd never got this close to a bear before and it was a thrill to have one standing up licking creamed corn off my hand, its alarmingly long claws poking through the wire.
They also had a liger - a cross between a lion and tiger, which was a beautiful animal, in a bizarre and disturbing way.
I'm not entirely a fan of zoos, and can remember all too well the horrific bare concrete enclosures that used to be the norm. But I do love to see the animals, and when they're living in the sort of natural, stimulating environment that enlightened zoos aspire to these days, I can allow myself - temporarily, anyway - to be won over by the consciousness-raising and preservation arguments. Not for the big, far-roaming animals, though, especially in climates that are patently unsuitable. They have polar bears at Sea World on the Gold Coast, you know. That's just wrong.

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