May. 29th, 2010

frandroid: "The Tentacle goes where?" in front of Buffy and Willow looking at a computer monitor (tentacle)
(Lots of my blog writing happens in Friends' journals, often in locked entries... I'll repost some of it here. I don't intend on linking to or revealing which journal the discussion comes from unless the person subsequently provides permission...)
(The conversation was about whether zoos and aquaria serve an educational purpose, and how these institutions don't actually provide much "education", captions or specific information about their captivesthe animals on display)

That makes some sense for art, because you don't go see art to be educated, not in an academic way, per se. It's another game...

If the intent of vivaria is to educate, well, that doesn't happen in a vacuum now, does it? I don't know of many business schools where they just park you in front of a stock ticker and say "well, we don't want to direct their learning about the stock market..." A large part of education happens with words.

I think people go to museums and vivaria to learn a little bit, or at least they tell that to themselves. But education, learning is work, and most people don't go to these places to work, they go there to be entertained, even if it's somewhat educational entertainment, just like watch National Geographic shows about African wildlife are a lot more about entertainment than education.

And yet. Having grown up at the edge of suburbia and the countryside, having spent my youth sport fishing (!) in various provincial parks and roaming around the patch of forest we own, I think there's something fundamental about being in contact with nature, and vivaria is one place where it happens, because you don't actually see many animal species when walking around in a forest, it's mostly about the flora. I just think that most zoos are not set to encourage that kind of phenomenological learning experience, keeping animals behind bars, separating them from the crowd. I many cases it's necessary, but not always, not most of the time.

The Montréal Biodôme is one cool vivaria; they have 4 "ecosystems" which you walk through on a ramp. It's a lot less like a zoo; in some places the ramp is also walled (3 to 4 feet high) or flies over the display, to keep the animals away (in the tropical exhibit, in particular, where they have a small croc or alligator), but it's a lot more immersive than your traditional zoo. In Saint-Félicien, a few hours north of Québec City, they have a wilderness park where the visitors get in a cage and are driven through the park, where large animals roam "free". So zoos could do a better job, than they are doing most of the time, for sure.

A friend of mine, the meat-eating animal-rights lover, thinks zoos should be banned. As a veg*n with an ambivalent relationship to the concept of animal "rights", having grown up somewhat close to nature, I disagree... I still think we should be shaken out of our urban, sanitized experiences to be reminded of where we came from and who are our brethren. I think vivaria can fulfil part of that purpose.

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