Located in the heart of Barcelona, right outside Parc de Ciutadella, Barcelona Zoo is possibly one of the most centrally located city zoos we’ve ever been to, save for Artis in Amsterdam, that is. For us, it couldn’t be better placed since it’s literally a five minute walk from our apartment in the city. The zoo is very well shaded, and even on the hottest of days, its paths remain cool and covered under the many trees that line its avenues and enclosures.
Like any well appointed zoo, it has plenty of big hits. Leopards, rhinos, hippos, elephants, Komodo dragons, it has all of them. The cages of the leopards and jaguars were spacious and filled with lots of vegetation to provide ample privacy. The animals were very lively when we visited – possibly because it was feeding time.
The leopard is the most elusive of the Big Five on the African savannah (the others being the lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo) and I’ve never seen it in the wild. I think keeping animals in zoos is a sad but necessary thing – if not for that, we’d never get to see these magnificent creatures up close.
As they walk by me across the length of the enclosure, their tails swaying slowly, rhythmically, their golden eyes watchful, I wonder what an irony it is that such a magnificent beast has been subdued by humans. Humans who are far less graceful and much less powerful if not for the tools of war that have enabled us to conquer beasts whose raw strength far surpasses ours.
Barcelona zoo is perhaps best know historically for being home to Snowflake, an albino gorilla who was found orphaned in Equatorial Guinea after his mother was killed by farmers for encroaching on their crops. Snowflake died, sadly, in 2003, but there are plenty of other great apes in the zoo.
Personally, we’re not big fans of keeping apes in enclosures, but I suppose for the sake of conservation there’s nothing to be done about it, as we encroach further and further upon the natural world.
Among the many apes kept in the zoo is an orangutan, a creature native to the jungles of Borneo, where I spent the many Christmases of my childhood. The orangutan is possibly my favourite ape.
It has a gentle nature and aggression among animals of the species occurs at a lower incidence than the rate prevalent among other apes. Actually, most other ape species are simply outright violent – the more solitary the social structure of the ape species, the less aggressive the ape.Interestingly, apes that prefer solitude tend to live in the jungles, like the orangutan and the gibbon. Gorillas also score lower on the aggression scale although they live in social groups consisting of harems. But anything I say here about the nature of the great apes can only be pure speculation pieced together from TED talks and pop-science books.
Most other apes we saw in the zoo, like the drill and its close cousin, the baboon, and apes like chimps tend to be highly aggressive. In fact, these apes kill each other on a regular basis, and research has shown that differing groups engage in genocide to obtain resources.
Among all the animals of the natural world, primates are the most lethally aggressive, and it is from this lineage we have inherited out genes. Perhaps part of the reason for our intelligence is so we can communicate among ourselves is to enact violence upon others to attain victory over resources. Perhaps this view is too bleak.
Like most marine mammals, seals are very intelligent and are used for marine scientific research. Scientist use them to dive deep into the depths of the ocean, to measure things like the salinity, temperature and other conditions. I like to think of them as sea dogs, they are adorable, intelligent, trainable and sociable.
In the Barcelona zoo, there are show times where you can watch them perform tricks for a treat or two. They also have dolphins there which are trained to entertained. I guess the animals don’t quite like being cooped up in a small tank – I don’t think its too big of a deal for lazy big cats like lions and jaguars, but marine mammals do need a lot of space and I didn’t think they had enough. Although the seals didn’t seem to mind as they happily interacted with each other, the visiting children and the zookeepers.
Lots of animals are violent often, especially among males. Nothing causes so much violence as the need for the possession of mates and territory. I’m unsure how this works out in the zoo when the number of mates are regulated, spaces are confined, and food sufficient, if not plentiful. It’s not possible to tell always whether two animals are coming to blows or are simply play-fighting.
Nevertheless, whatever the case, the most lethally aggressive species, whether purposefully or accidentally, is the hippo. No other animal upon the African savannah kills so many as it does.
They say the rhino’s biggest defence is its bad temper. To be honest, whenever I’ve seen rhinos, they mostly want to mind their own business, even when you come quite close to them and start taking photos. I wouldn’t call them gentle – when seen on TV they often want to charge at everything, and in fact I know of one person who was charged at by an Asian rhino and managed to jump at the last moment, which made me think twice about going on a rhino safari in Thailand.
Also, people would seldom call a rhino cute, but I find them utterly adorable, with their sad eyes and large trumpet ears.
I suppose we cannot look at a rhino today and separate the animal from the symbol it represents as our society’s failure at conservation, and our stupidity and greed. It is impossible to look at one of these creatures and not think “very soon, they will be no more”. A tragedy occurring before our eyes even as we look on helpless, unable to stop it no matter our efforts.
There are a lot of flamingos in the Barcelona zoo. I think there are two or three enclosures dotted around the place. What was funny was that they seemed to blend into the urban surroundings quite perfectly, almost like they were placed where they were as a part of some urban plan. Although they look a bit silly, with their pink coat and rail thin legs, flamingos are among the most resilient creatures on Earth, able to withstand unbearably hot temperatures as well as temperatures below freezing, and they can be found on every continent (except Antartica).
Peacocks are the bird of paradise. If ever there was an animal that showcased the runaway effects of sexual selection, the peacock is certainly it.
But not only is the peacock proof of the important role of sexual selection in evolution, it is proof that animals without great intelligence have a sense of aesthetics and beauty!
If the peacock was selected for beauty, there is another creature that has been selected over time for cuteness. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but it has. There is no other animal in the world that remains looking like its cute and cuddly baby form quite so much as the red panda.
The red panda is endangered and doesn’t make it easy for itself. Preferring to live in isolated family units of usually one mother and two cubs, with males spaced far away in the great bamboo forests of East Asia, it’s not easy to find a partner to have cute little baby red pandas with.
Luckily, they are very popular in zoos, and I think in Japan there’s an entire sanctuary dedicated to these wonderful critters. Cuteness does go a long way, whether you’re a person or a panda.
Here are all the photographs from the Barcelona Zoo: