With another beautiful morning to explore, I stopped by the zoo again. Joining an audience to watch wild animals in enclosures, even when I understand and support the various missions that keep them there, is usually difficult for me. Often visitors have a consumer-focused expectation that zoo residents and staff are there solely for immediate entertainment purposes, with little appreciation for the careful design and maintenance of habitats, exhibits, and programs that nurture and inform the visitor-resident relationship.
Today’s experience was a bit different, as most of my weekday visitor cohort were under the age of four, accompanied by parents who appeared relaxed and interested in whatever their kids paid attention to. Going through the red-lit (thus no photos) kiwi hut for the second time, I paused to enjoy the conversations centered on Tahi, a North Island brown kiwi rescued after an encounter with a trap left him with only one leg. Tahi (Maori word for”one”) was hopping around, vigorously probing the leaf litter, and the kids watching him were at first dismayed at his condition, baffled as to why someone would hurt him, then comforted by his obvious ability to compensate in captivity. A tiny girl suggested they should take him out for a walk/hop in the bush “away from these red lights.”
Here is a bit of the biodiversity I encountered on a leisurely stroll around the zoo, complete with early morning routines:
This entire zoo is clearly oriented toward children, unlike others I’ve visited that designate specific areas for the under-12 crowd. Active play spaces are scattered throughout, and access to both creatures and content is remarkable. During my first visit, which was just before schools started, I saw lots of kids going through the zoo without adults in attendance. This is the norm in many public places in New Zealand, and the zoo design assumes that kids can independently interpret what they are experiencing. The comprehension level of the signage remains fairly high, however – so it is available and interesting to all audiences. I also appreciate the directness of conservation messaging and acknowledgement of the zoo’s evolution. Wellington Zoo had a single female elephant, Kamala, for 30 years. Originally a gift from India, Kamala was a beloved institution in her own right at the zoo, but when she died in 1983, a decision was made not to replace her. Elephants need elephant companionship, and there was not enough room to house more than one in Wellington. The elephant habitat was removed, but there is a unique space and information dedicated to explaining its absence.
One of my very favorite things about this zoo – probably because I always dreamed of being a zoo vet – is The Nest, the zoo hospital. It is completely visible to the public, and even has an intercom so you can ask the doctors questions as they are working. I don’t know how common this sort of transparency is in the zoo world, but to me it is another example of New Zealand’s refreshing willingness to engage openly with all sorts of public opinion.Today they were operating on the tail of a golden lion tamarin, and the preschoolers (and I) who were watching were totally mesmerized.
Next door is the aquatic rehabilitation center where injured marine wildlife like penguins are treated.
Baltimore’s zoo has (or used to have) a “walk like a chimp” mirror display near the chimpanzee house. Here’s Wellington’s version by the baboon habitat:
On the way out, a set of posters caught my eye, promoting a global biodiversity app. I think the Wellington Zoo does a great job of connecting visitors with the inhabitants and new information that they encounter here, and I’m looking forward to getting involved with their school programs, starting tomorrow!