After several weeks in Lima, I ran out of excuses why I couldn’t go to the zoo. My friend kept inviting me, insisting that I shouldn’t miss it. Joel really wanted to show off what seemed to be his favorite place.
Truth is, I get depressed at zoos. When I see the animals in the cages, staring at me with those pitifully sad faces, I feel their pain. Even the most advanced enclosures with natural settings are not the same as nature. I try to convince myself that the animals have been rescued and are being rehabilitated and cared for by loving keepers. If they were released into the wild they wouldn’t survive… so best keep them in the zoo.
But… I see little things that make me angry; empty water dishes, soiled cages, spectators rapping on the glass or taunting sleeping creatures. Garbage thrown carelessly into the enclosures, overcrowding or worse yet… solitary animals, and that, that just makes me sad. If you enjoy going to the zoo, don’t invite me along, I’ll probably spoil your day.
On my last weekend in Peru Joel finally convinced me to go with him to Parque de las Leyendas. I reluctantly agreed. It wasn’t a bad zoo… I tried desperately not to over scrutinize the details. I breezed past the first section with animals from the mountains. I lingered in the botanical gardens and leisurely explored the ancient ruins (pre-Spaniard). I hurried away from exhibits with weepy eyed animals or crowds pressing against the glass.
After a snack we rented a pedal boat and floated around a big lagoon for a while… I managed to see the entire 3 sections (coastal, mountain and jungle) without having a total breakdown or being reduced to tears. It wasn’t a bad zoo…
But the big treat came at the end. We were walking toward the gates to exit and I spotted a bus. It drew me in with its cheerful paint-job. Joel said, “That’s for children”, and tried to drag me away but I had to see inside.
I pushed my way past the girl minding the door. She was trying to shut it but I squeezed through and entered a chamber with a dozen kids, 2 parents and a man in a blue jacket.
COOL! A bus/classroom to educate kids about water.
I was instantly comforted, forgot all about zoo trauma, and was excited to learn more. I watched a unique demonstration of how water evaporates then rises to the top of the mountains, falls as rain, gets filtered by the land then returns to the ocean. At least, that’s what I think he was saying. (My Spanish is pretty limited.) He had a nifty switch panel that turned on lights and accentuated his model and presentation.
Next he played a short video that reinforced what he had just taught the kids. It had flashy graphics and lots of animations. The children were engaged. I watched them watching. It inspires me to see young people learning about nature and our precious resources, especially water. The video showed statistics for how many liters per day each Peruvian needed. The numbers were way lower than what North Americans use. I shuffled uncomfortably when the comparison table was showing.
When the video was over, Marc (the blue jacketed man) quizzed the kids and answered questions. It was encouraging to see genuine interest from the kids and infectious passion from the host. When the discussion ended he slid open a door and we entered the back half of the bus. Marc circled the room and pointed to the information displayed prominently on the walls. There was a final round of Q&A followed by another video and a few more questions to finish the water lesson. Afterward each child was presented with a T-shirt from the water authority (Authoridad Nacional de la Agua) and they were shuffled out the back door to clear way for the next group. It was a perfect finish to a challenging day for me. I was inspired by the program. After spending 3 months focused on exposing the problems in Peru, it was refreshing to see someone sharing solutions.
I keep saying, education is the answer. We need to reach the children.
Teach them to recycle, reuse, rethink, reduce, and refuse. Show them how to grow food. Provide them with opportunities to engage with nature… Nurture a connection and respect for the environment. Encourage a sense of responsibility for our natural resources.
The adults of the past few decades haven’t been doing such a great job. Here’s hoping this next generation does better.