Are Some Philadelphia Zoo Animal Habitats Too Cruel?

Seeing the animals there makes me yell Zoobil-ouch! But I've got a solution

I’m not a native Philadelphian, so from time to time some local things have me a bit befuddled. I realize I’m going to ruffle some feathers with this, but what is the deal with the Zoo? This place seems to be the object of great local pride, but has anyone else noticed it’s not that nice a place for animals to live?

Before we continue, I am not a PETA vegan animal rights activist. I love animals dearly, but I admit to possessing a fur coat and I once dumped a vegetarian for being too boring to go out to dinner with. That being said, the dogs get top billing in our house, and I’d rather have a pet pig than eat bacon. I’m not a supporter of circuses or animals in cages, but I’ve been to some terrific zoos. The kind with lots of land for the habitats and that promote wildlife preservation. There are zoos that require monorails to get around because the large animals need that much space.

Then there’s the Philadelphia Zoo. It’s a physically pretty place with lovely pathways; it’s an attractive oasis on Girard Avenue; and they have that cool balloon. But then you see the actual animals. Remember the early days of the invasion of Afghanistan when the news showed footage of the Kabul Zoo with the skinny one-eyed lion? Yeah, that’s what comes to mind.[SIGNUP]

The first time I went a few years ago, I saw the most pathetic assortment of creatures, I swear. They looked like seconds. There was the giraffe with the huge goiter on his neck. There was also a bear sloth that exhibited neurotic obsessive-compulsive behavior, wearing a rut in the ground pacing wildly in front of his house. There were the poor dried-out elephants with no room to roam. And the country of Canada should be told that they are holding a magnificent Canadian lynx hostage in a cage. Seriously, not one of these large species has room to get some exercise. It’s tragic. I left so depressed, I couldn’t figure out why people take their kids there.

I went to Zoobilee once. It was my second (and last) visit to the zoo. My husband dropped me at the gate while he parked the car and while I waited I was approached by one of the animal rights protesters. Normally I am leery of zealots, but in this case I actually agreed with their cause. I briefly considered ditching my husband and handing out pamphlets with them. I didn’t, of course. But from my perspective, there wasn’t enough tequila at the margarita fountain to make those animals look happy. I was tempted to offer the Hippo a drink.

Since that first visit, the giraffe died, the elephants moved out and I’ve met some lovely Zoo employees that rave about how the place is fabulous and the animals are well-treated. It’s not that I think they’re lying, but … nothing over 30 pounds belongs in that zoo. There is virtually limitless amount of space outside the city in surrounding counties. Couldn’t they relocate the Philadelphia Zoo to the periphery and make it a world-class zoo? Surely some of the bigwigs on the board could throw some splashy fundraisers and buy some land in the burbs and make a big PR humanitarian effort to create a fabulous zoo. I’d give to that cause.

And before everyone starts throwing dung at me, I’m not suggesting the current zoo go to waste. They could still have the smaller animals, the aviaries, petting areas, the great educational exhibits, and fun kids stuff. They could keep the balloon and it could still be the nation’s oldest zoo. It just doesn’t have to be the only zoo. It could be the smaller urban sibling to the bigger attraction. That would be worth the price of admission. And wouldn’t we all flap our flippers with pride watching giraffes gallop and the lynx leaping?