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At Large

Enchanted Zoobic nights

One of the most astonishing arguments about animals and zoos I read in the novel “Life of Pi” by Canadian author Yann Martel. It’s a long, reflective book that touches on many aspects of life, but a “debate” on the freedom animals enjoy in the wild and what happens to them when they are captured and enclosed in a zoo can be found early in the manuscript.

The argument goes this way: “Well-meaning but misinformed people think that animals in the wild are ‘happy’ because they are ‘free’… The life of the wild animal is simple, noble and meaningful, they imagine. Then it is captured by wicked men and thrown into tiny jails. Its ‘happiness’ is dashed. It yearns mightily for ‘freedom’ and does all it can to escape. Being denied its ‘freedom’ for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit broken. So some people imagine.

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“This is not the way it is.

“Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. What is the meaning of freedom in such a context? Animals in the wild are, in practice, free neither in space nor in time, nor in their personal relations …

“If a man, boldest and most intelligent of creatures, won’t wander from place to place, a stranger to all, beholden to none, why would an animal, which is by temperament far more conservative? For that is what animals are, conservative, one might even say reactionary. The smallest changes can upset them. They want things to be just so, day after day, month after month. Surprises are highly disagreeable to them … In the wild, animals stick to the same paths for the same pressing reasons, season after season.”

Perhaps a reading of “Life of Pi,” or at least that section, should be required of every visitor, young or old, to a zoo. That would certainly make the experience easier on the conscience, and the relationship between visitor
and animal on “display” more equitable, less utilitarian.

Among the many delights my family encountered during our recent visit to Zoobic, the 25-hectare jungle area in the Subic Bay Freeport that houses creatures of many species but is proudest of its tigers, was the ride through the tiger reservation during the Night Safari.

In the darkness, broken only by the headlights of the open tram, it is easy to be startled by the sudden appearance of a tiger peering through the safety barrier. “Anton!” our guide called out, holding out some pieces of chicken which the magnificent creature chomped on eagerly. Then the guide urged Anton on, hurling the chicken to the tram’s glass roof with Anton leaping after it, while we cowered in giddy excitation.

I don’t know if Anton was among the tigers paraded through the performance area, but they were easily the stars of the show — joining a camel, horses, native boar, exotic birds, geese and ducks, snakes and a boa constrictor, even badgers and guinea pigs — in procession. The Zoobic human staff then put on their own spectacular, with flickering fancy costumes shining brightly in the dark. The Night Safari takes place on weekends, and it would certainly provide far more comfort in these searing summer days.

Another highlight of our Zoobic weekend was an overnight stay at “Glampz,” or “glamping at Zoobic,” a term coined to connote camping with glamour.

Zoobic owner Robert Yupangco, who owns Residence Inn in Tagaytay with a small zoo, came up with the idea of constructing rooms (a total of 12 is foreseen) converted from trailer vans into a full-amenity facility. The cottage has all the basic features: air-conditioning, shower and toilet, a double bed with pullout mattress, cable TV, and my favorite, a furnished patio with a view overlooking the Subic jungle where we chose to have breakfast. Be warned, though, these days, there is still some construction going on.

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You wake up to morning light filtering through the windows with a cage in which two cockatoos are preening themselves on tree branches. What a charming way to ease yourself into the day!

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TAGS: animal life, animals, At Large, Life of Pi, Rina Jimenez-David, Yann Martel
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