At the Zoo (excerpt)

Somethin' tells me
It's all happening at the zoo.

The monkeys stand for honesty,
Giraffes are insincere,
And the elephants are kindly but
They're dumb.
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages,
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.

Zebras are reactionaries,
Antelopes are missionaries,
Pigeons plot in secrecy,
And hamsters turn on frequently.
What a gas! You gotta come and see
At the zoo.

—Simon and Garfunkel

I used to think that zoos create opportunities for conservation education and some connection for urban dwellers with the natural world. But a recent visit to Washington’s National Zoo convinced me otherwise. Zoos could fulfill their conservation functions without putting incarcerated animals on display in unnatural spaces that serve the public’s voyeuristic impulses. But by doing so, zoos enshrine our separation from nature and dominance over other species. Acknowledging that some species on display are endangered, I even question whether it makes sense to preserve a species in zoos whose natural habitat has disappeared.