Today was a perfect day in Paris. Sunny even if a bit nippy. Yes, a lovely day.
I need to take a walk every day now. A long one. When I am in Paris, I always end up in the same places - The Tuileries or the Luxembourg. Today had to be different.
I thought about several places I like a lot in Paris. I contemplated taking a walk along the Seine or going to Bagatelle... Then I remembered that I had been planning for the longest time to go to the ‘Jardin des Plantes’. It is a very famous outdoor botanical garden complete with beautiful glasshouses. It also boasts quite a few museums too (paleontology, evolution, geology...)
It had to be the Jardin des Plantes then. I had been there a few times but a very, very long time ago.
The visit of the botanical garden is free... and it is huge. A lot of space for a nice walk.
I got there and started walking and then I noticed a sign - “Zoo”. I did not know they had a zoo there. I am quite biased against zoos actually. But the sign said that it was the oldest zoo in Europe, that it used to be the “royal” zoo and that it only housed endangered species.
I bought a ticket out of sheer curiosity - Now I’d call it unhealthy curiosity!
And I started to walk around the - well, I don’t even know what to call them - the... the... pens... enclosures... paddocks...?
The stench of the prisoners was terrible. I was walking through a prison. I really was.
The “cells” were awfully small. Sandy ground. A few tree trunks here and there inside the enclosures. The real trees were growing outside, along very unfriendly iron gates that were supposed to keep people away from the animals or maybe it was the opposite... I’ll never know.
I kept on walking, feeling more and more upset. There was the big-cat house where a couple of panthers were looking down at visitors from concrete rocks. Safe behind gates and strong glass walls. Safe from the visitors who kept getting excited and being very loud... And so lonely and trapped while trees were growing out of their cells.
They were renovating part of the big-cat enclosures. I was happy to see men behind the gates except that they could get out very easily... you see, they were workers and not wild animals.
I was feeling nauseated. I really was. And not because of the stench.
This place is so antiquated, so incredibly appalling as far as wildlife is concerned that one question was always in my mind. At a time when we care a lot more about wild animals and the protection of animal species, at a time when we create wildlife sanctuaries all over the place, at a time when we get upset and worried about the extinction of many endangered species, why do we preserve places like this one?
I really don’t know. Children did not even look excited nor happy to be there. Probably because the animals are keeping away as much as they can from the noise, the hustle and bustle.
And then the last straw.
There it was - a huge orangutan whose face is printed on the zoo tickets. It was right behind the glass wall, asleep on a of heap of straw. People were flocking round, taking pictures, getting so excited probably because it was the only really visible animal in the zoo.
And then this beautiful great ape opened his eyes for a fleeting moment right when I was facing it. Will you forgive me if I get maudlin about the look in his eyes? Will it be sheer anthropomorphism if I say that there was a lot of boredom and even pain in its eyes?
Well, anyway. He closed them again and I left.
I was very, very upset. I left the zoo in a hurry.
I still had to take a walk, remember. So I walked around the garden. Very beautiful indeed and I have to go back there because I didn’t have enough time to visit what they call the Alpine garden nor the huge conservatory nor the Paleontology department.
I noticed one thing though. In the gardens, there is grass for people to sit down and real trees for children to climb. And there are iron gates everywhere... I don’t know why... Maybe the zoo was much bigger a long time ago. They got rid of the animals and kept the gates.
I did have enough time to visit the Gallery of Evolution.
Why do people take their children to the zoo? The Gallery was empty. A few children with their parents and that’s all.
This place is amazing. The animals (life-size spitting images) are very close to the visitors. The exhibits are beautiful with screens showing the animals in the wild.
So I spent a lot of time there. The few children around sounded and looked delighted. They were asking tons of questions. Which meant that they were happy.
I was happy. I’ll probably come back pretty soon. The Gallery is an unbelievable place. It really is.
*Good Luck, and Good Night*