This is the first in what I’m hoping will be a series of ten posts about single images from the past decade – this first one is from a trip to the Toronto Zoo in 2010. A little background story to the image and why it is important to me.
In September of 2010, I made a trip to the Toronto Zoo excited by the opportunity to see a world-class facility and, of course, take pictures of animals that in all likelihood I would never have the opportunity to see any other way. A memorable school trip to another zoo years before left me with memories still Kodachrome bright and full of pleasant feelings.
All the animals were there. Zebras, snow leopards, tigers, kangaroos the entire range from the proverbial A to Z. The images through the viewfinder were I thought, perfect. By positioning and framing the shots “just so” I could eliminate any hint of the enclosures and most if not all of the animals had given me at least one or two excellent portrait shots.
The weather was cooperative, the day bright, company great and the images seemingly well captured. I have images of tigers, a fox, zebras and at least a half dozen others from that day I would count among my best wildlife images.
Yet by the end of the day, I was filled with a melancholy that I could just not shake.
The reason was obvious when I started really looking at the images later in the week. These animals were prisoners. Sure they were well treated, fed regularly and had access to veterinary care that they would never have in a life lived wild but they were no longer wildlife but living instead a cultivated life.
You could see it in the sluggishness of their movement, the lack of life in their eyes. These animals were, despite the efforts of their keepers to provide as much freedom of movement as possible, prisoners. Captured and raised to provide their watchers with the thrill of seeing these animals as up close and “personal” as could safely be designed.
This image of the polar bear, I think, captured the hopelessness of this great creature’s situation. Basically resigned to living out his days in the most unnatural environment that could really exist for a bear that should have been thousands of kilometres away skirting the cool Arctic shores and ice flows looking for seals.
Of course, ten years later we are quickly reaching the point where this may be the only way in which these great beasts can survive at all. Thanks to climate change and a quickly warming north their main method of finding food is melting away from beneath their big hairy paws.
The ever-growing list of extinct animal species is the most accurate measure of our inability as humans to look beyond ourselves as a species. We haven’t yet figured out how to coexist with Mother Nature and instead because of our own inadequacies are forced to fence her in. At great cost not just to the animals but ourselves.