The baboons were making noises again, on that soft summer day.
As I swam and dove in the sea, listening to the baboons, there was a familiar mixture of animal scents in the ever-present breeze. It was a typical day for me that summer. I was 11 and my brother was 7. We were playing frisbee in the sea, just the two of us, on the little island leading to the zoo. The zoo animals were on the shore opposite us – we could even see some of the buildings. And we’d imagine the rest.
We used to go to the zoo often, because back in those days, it cost next to nothing for children under 12. We’d basically just walk in.
We also went to that little beach a lot, equipped with suntan lotion and towels, and not much else.
On the island before the zoo, we’d see a peacock strut its stuff, although my mother didn’t seem to believe us when we told her. We also saw pheasants there regularly.
There was a little forest path on the way to the beach, which took a downward plunge right before its end. The path was uneven with roots, and armies of ants paraded it, up and down. I loved riding that path with my white-and-pink bike, as quickly as I could go.
Almost thirty years later, the zoo still exists. But the baboons are long gone. Replaced by a species better suited for the cold.
The beach has changed, it’s not deserted anymore and ugly changing rooms have been built. Harmful blue-green algae make an occasional appearance at many of the town’s beaches, lessening my urge to dip in. A large bridge has been built, too, making the island a feasible place to visit for a picnic or a jog. There is even an adventure park.
I didn’t look for the ant path – I have changed, too. My bike is now white-and-green.
As our almost-toddlers visited a zoo for the first time, my brother accompanying us, I couldn’t help thinking that I could find no ethical reason to keep animals in cages to be ogled. Unless they were going extinct and the zoo was part of the effort to keep the species alive.
But then, seeing dozens of other families and children swirling about, I came up with another reason.
Maybe the next generation will learn better to love and appreciate their world, along with its fauna and flora, if they get the opportunity to experience them firsthand.
To fall in love with horses and chickens, to feel the thrill of hugging a tree and listening to the wind move its branches. To dive into water while talking about an encounter with a peacock, and giggling away.
(The zoo I’m referring to is the Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki, Finland)