It’s doors foreboding on it’s massive entry hall, it’s car park full to bursting, another busy day at the circus that never moves. Queuing at the junction, many cars ahead, the heat haze above every baking tin roof. The air conditioning giving some respite for us from the heat, but taking all moisture from our mouths. We inch forward and take our turn to cross the traffic, drive up the entry road, a haze of dust hovers in the air from the constant disturbance of the visitors wheels. Heading through the car park, already hundreds of cars are bleeding people and prams, carefully I drive, check that tiny hands are held.
From our parking place, the entry building is looking very small, a mass of people march up the hill towards it, and we join, the lines are long. Thoughts wander to is this the only place open in the world?
Shuffling forwards little by little towards the kiosks, when did prams get so large? double and triple seated with suspension, canopies and shopping bags, just drive the car right in why not?
The lady sits in the kiosk, behind security glass, designed to hamper the hard of hearing, make them ask three times. We take our tickets and our folding map and head through the turnstiles, out to find the toilet, for that is the first thing you do at the end of any journey.
Unburdened we unfold the map, a design of colour and cartoon and no sense of scale, as if the children were the ones who had to decipher its content. first thing near are the capuchin monkeys, so there we head, and through the window we see, a keeper with a broom and a bucket. Back to the map, the reptile house. Through the doors we hit more heat than the baking day outside, for these animals are not made for the cold and the damp of this soggy isle. We lean on the hand rail and watch as the iguana sits under his heat lamp, as if he had never moved in all his days, his scales glowing bright green, his tail showing a kink of history. Just as I feel the sweat start to trickle down my back, we need to move on, a double buggy needs to pass.
Out into the open air, it feels almost cool, the humidity is what bungs the lungs. Passing a restaurant we see that some are already digging into fried chicken. Only on a day out will someone eat such greasy food at eleven in the morning.
We turn a corner and hear our first tired cry of the day, the stone faced mother ignores them and marches forwards to more fun..
Looking into the next enclosure, a hornbill bounces from branch to branch, tilting her head and looking inquisitively at the ice cream grasping children below.
Many more enclosures pass, some looking empty, some that are empty. No doubt waiting for their specific animal to come back into stock.. In the distance I see the large grey unmistakable shape of an elephant, one of the favourites you would find, once to be found on a concrete island, to be thrown peanuts by the ignorant patrons and encouraged by the ignorant keepers. Now they wander large areas with pools and branches. But the wild does not compare to the most beautiful of cages.
I spy a flamingo stretching her wing. Yes one, for one wing is clipped to prevent the beautiful sight of birds in flight. It seems perverse to have them stand for all their days below a sky they will never know. Perhaps they do not even know their distant cousins soar above in glorious pink clouds.
But, these places are needed my mind argues, to educate, to make aware, to safely give birth to the rare.
The rhinos especially need the help, for a horn they are slaughtered in the wild, these I see next. Quite how they carry their weight so daintily is a mystery, while a cow looks like she is carrying every pound, the rhino skips as lightly as a ballerina. A young mum and her child next to us watch the rhino eat, ‘look at the rhinoceros’ exclaims the child, to my amazement the mum corrects her and informs her that these are hippos. I can only shake my head, walk away and smile.
Previously I have seen grown adults point to a leopard and declare it a tiger. These folks were not there that day at school I guess..
In one place a digger sits, another new enclosure, each new one shinier than the last, huge widows surrounded by bright signs, sculptured painted concrete rocks ape nature but not quite, a Disney land effect, a theme park without a ride.
Time to go sit and drink a coffee, a small place alongside a small field, a clearing for the birds of prey to play. The timing is right and we watch a falcon climb higher and higher, till speck, then gone lost in the sun. The falconer starts to twirl the bait and searches the sky, in moments at a hundred miles per hour the falcon arrives and grasps her meal, nature impresses again.
As tiredness makes the children scream, the wasps are in full force chasing ice lollies. A sign it is time to leave. We get to the car and watch the folks still pouring in as we exit. This car really needs a wash.