Wednesday, July 24, 2002


Jaws of a dilemma
25 July 2002

Debate over the future of Wellington Zoo revolves around the key question of what modern zoos are for: conserving endangered animals, or entertaining the punters, writes Michelle Quirke

...Zoo enthusiast Charles Morris, president of the Wellington Zoological Society, was mesmerised by chimpanzee tea parties as a four-year-old. "I remember they were fun. They used to put little pants and T-shirts on them. They would come out and sit at a little girl's table and pour themselves tea and they would sit there and drink it.

"Invariably young chimps would be carried around in the crowd and you could touch them. The sad thing is, if you put them on today, the public and the kids would adore it, but it causes a lot of problems. It changes the way they behave."

By the late 1970s the tea parties were over. Public opinion on how animals are kept changed faster than zoos were at first able to keep up with. Now, with cages becoming enclosures, the emphasis has moved to conservation and education rather than entertainment.

Zoo manager Alison Lash says Wellington's chimps were reintegrated into the larger social group with considerable success. "However, many zoos around the world have been less successful or less lucky. Chimps, who can live well into their 50s, can still be found in good zoos living unnatural lives because humans' need for entertainment turned them into something they were not."...