Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Return To The Zoo

Previously: Manila Zoo

There is this kind of magic when returning to the place that once made your eyes shimmer with excitement. For a moment, the toils of daily living is replaced by this longing, as memories of past visits fill you with fleeting thoughts - echoes of children screaming with delight upon learning their rickety tour bus is heading towards this forgotten corner; of getting an SMS from a brother after your work, asking if you can accompany him for a leisurely photo shoot; of family visits so obscure, you create scenes, unsure they ever happened. For reasons that need no contemplation, I thought of going back at the Manila Zoo, a kind of kindled visit, so as to remind myself that time flies and the things I used to cherish, may not be there anymore.

It was never my first idea to go there, as what I had in mind was a tour of the National Museum. Sleepless and needing some activity to spice up my rest day, the free entrance at the public exposition was something one should never ignore. I went there, at the building across Intramuros only to find the repository of the nation's artifacts was closed on a Monday. 


Instead of going home to catch some sleep, or having a detour at the gym, like I always do, a plan B comes in handy. I may have to endure the blistering heat and the stench of animal excrement, already wafting outside the walls of this verdant space, but better have this trip now, than return to my bed without any story to tell.

The return expedition is like a "Time Space Warp" to the past, except the sights and sounds look so vintage and yet neglected, and whose soul seems to be in a state of despair that no publicity or promotion can bring back the zoo's old glory days. There is Maali, the 41-year old elephant, who was masticating her late afternoon snack when I came across her pen. She made some headlines some years ago after an online petition for her transfer to an animal sanctuary gathered a lot of digital signatures. Aging and isolated, she is not the only wild beast confined to life imprisonment. There is this hippopotamus, whose wrinkled hide show some moss green lines, a lion with thinning mane having a dip at his tub, and peacocks, with balding feathers trying to call the attention of an unimpressed mate who was nesting in a corner.   

One can't help but wonder, are these animals really getting the care they need?

The lament was deepened by the seemingly cavalier attitude of those who run the place, and the kind of people who visit it. From shack owners who wheedle curiousers to have a photo shoot with their exotic birds (and snakes) for 100 pesos, to adults who encourage children to feed the animals of whatever edible stuff they carry around, I was shaking my head in disappointment, and even wishing Manila Zoo to charge more before visitors can get in. I think there is a need, not just to see healthy animals on display, but to actually learn the value of preserving the environment through on the spot education, and realize, that these creatures belong in the wild, and not inside corralled spaces.

I wouldn't forget seeing plastic containers of bottled water and cups of 7-Eleven Slurpee next to a sleeping tiger. For a moment there, I thought we have reduced ourselves to organisms far lesser than the species whose attention we were trying to get.

The beasts who have thrown those garbage should have hurled themselves instead.

Despite the heartbreaks, there too, are light moments worth sharing to cap my return: the almost instinctive "meowing" when trying to call the attention of the felines, particularly that civet cat sleeping inside her cage; to that inter-species enclosure where rabbits and guinea pigs share living spaces and appearing in harmony; to talking to a pen maintenance worker who told me that many of the turtles there were donated by pet owners who can no longer take care of the overgrown reptiles.

"Minsan dinadala na lang nila dito," he was sweeping the little pond while the slow-moving Testudines rush towards the other side of the pen, in a manner similar to a stampede. You can hear the clacking sounds as their shells collide.

"So anong pinapakain niyo sa kanila?" I further probed.

"Hayun, dilis, kaya malansa dito."

Despite my hatred for enclosed spaces, and animals that seem to being displayed with wanton abandon, there is a need to return to the zoo, not to glorify this false mastery over lesser creatures, but to see the sights before each of the animals who have known this place as home pass into oblivion. The last time I stepped foot on this ground, there was this orangutan taking up residence in one of the cages. She died of old age last 2010, never to be replaced again as the entire species may become extinct a few generations from now. Many of the larger pens have been left empty, with local funds apparently being funneled towards personal pockets instead of adding stocks of wild animals for people to see. And with trends turning against all forms of animal cruelty, (including putting them in places, like zoos) there would come a time when the Manila Zoo will just be, an ordinary public space.

A park, whose history comes alive in pictures and stories, like the one I am writing today.


Angelo said...

I've been wanting to visit the National Museum again. I've been reading a lot of good things about it. Whoever is behind the NM administration now is doing a good job! :)

As for the zoo, the animals should just be turned over to another zoo that's more capable of animal care. Or yeah, charge more for zoo entrance.

kalansaycollector said...

awww this is soooo nostalgic. :)