Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lions? In Florida?

Postcard, courtesy Impact

As I mentioned in my previous posts on West Palm Beach, Florida (starting with the post on 18th February) we went there to celebrate my husband’s birthday who wished to be in a warmer climate. This particular day we decided to visit Lion Country Safari.

Since we went to this park I have read opposing views about zoos, zoological parks and aquariums. I’ll mention several observations here – views “against”: animals should not be taken away from their environments for humans’ pleasure. Most visitors spend little time in front of zoo displays; they are there mostly for the entertainment than to learn about the animals. Animals that live in family groups in the wild are kept alone or just in pairs. Animals are confined, lack privacy with little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. Natural hunting and mating behavior are eliminated. Zoos continue to capture animals from the wild to put them on public display. It is cruel to keep animals confined.

Vintage postcard of tiger (1905)

Here are the views “for”: because of the population explosion, animal habitat has been encroached upon or destroyed at unbelievably high rates. Animals are slowly being starved and exterminated. Zoos are the only places the species are safe for the future. Zoos have changed from keeping animals in confined areas of concrete and metal bars to habitat created to more closely resemble conditions in the wild. Today most of zoo mammals come from other zoos; they were not taken from the wild. If shipped back to a foreign land it would be a death sentence. They live much longer in a zoo than in the wild. Zoos educate the public about the value of animals so the public will support conservation efforts. Zoos are actively involved in numerous projects to rescue and preserve endangered species. In 2007 alone, the Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio raised over $716,000 for field conservation. Last June we took our 2 ½ year old grandson to the Columbus Zoo. He observed the animals, asked many questions. Television or a picture book would not have sparked his interest as much as watching the animals live, and close up.

Reports have shown that visitors experience a stronger connection to nature and animals after a visit to a zoo or zoological park. They prompt individuals to reconsider their role in environmental problems, conservation actions and enhance their understanding of wildlife. Across America there are over 200 zoos which were visited by about 160 million visitors. Last summer at the Atlanta zoo I saw a busload of small children from an in-town poor Atlanta school. If it were not for the zoo, they would never see a wild animal. Should zoos close their doors and send back all the animals? Should museums sell back their foreign artwork to the countries of origin, like the impressionist paintings to France, the statues to Italy, and so forth, and then close their doors? These are difficult questions that need to be pondered and, in the meantime, we’ll visit the West Palm Beach zoological park called Lion Country Safari. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

The park calls itself the “Home of the drive through safari adventure.” Really you can drive through the 5-mile animal reserve just as you would on the plains somewhere in Africa and watch the animals far away or as close as your car door. The lions, though, are not free to roam since they could be dangerous for visitors or could eat many of the other animals... I certainly would rather go to Botswana or a game reserve in South Africa to watch the animals than in Florida, but these are not trips that can easily be managed.

This cageless zoo was developed by South African and British entrepreneurs who thought that the climate of South Florida was suited to house wild animals and bring an African game experience to the visitors in this rural area of West Palm Beach – a small town called Loxahatchee. They have close to 1000 animals in the reserve. We drove to the park at around 10:30 am and there were very few visitors.

After paying for the admission they gave us a CD so we could hear the narrative on the animals. We started driving slowly into the park. There never was more than one of two cars ahead or behind us, and at a distance. You do have to keep your doors and windows closed and they keep reminding you of this. I mostly used my little Olympus digital camera, Stylus 830, because it has a “through glass’ setting to take pictures. But the pictures may not be as clear and sharp as if I had had the windows open and in some pictures the light reflection can be seen. I took 328 pictures there and wish I could show them all here, but I won’t – I’ll do some collages and hope this will not be too long.

birds perched on decoys

The massive park is divided into seven sections named after famous wildlife areas and national parks in South America India and Africa. One is named Las Pampas (the Grasslands) – where the brown pelicans, the llamas, the Aldabra tortoises and the rheas are located. The rheas look like ostriches; they are large flightless birds native to South America, they cannot fly but can run 30 miles per hour. We drove a second time through the preserve and some of them came to look at us, pretty close to our car.

There were some lovely llamas which we would have liked to pet.

We passed by many water holes and small lakes with a variety of birds. Birds also gathered along the road to feast on the food left there for the other animals.

Don't forget to click on pictures to enlarge them

In the Ruhana National Park section (African wilderness) we drove by the impalas, aoudads and the greater kudus. As the animals came closer to observe us we stopped the car so they would not be afraid and run away.

One young female greater kudu (I think this is what she was) kept coming closer to look at me.

The Kalahari Bushveldt (Southwest Africa) had the gemsbok. It is a large African antelope with a tuft of hair at the throat and some darker color in the face area.

When we arrived in the Serengeti Plains section (East Africa)

we were greeted by an ostrich

then we passed by a waterbuck which is another type of antelope from Africa.

There were also some mouflons, elands and wildebeests.

From a distance we saw the African elephants. My daughter and I rode on top of Asian elephants while in Northern Thailand. The African and Asian elephants are very different. They differ anatomically and in temperament. The Asian elephant is more peaceable, reliable and trainable whereas the African elephant remains moody and undependable, at least in the wild. When you ride an Asian elephant you feel as though you dominate the world. The elephant moves slowly, assuredly and you float over the jungle. Three of the African elephants there are in a special enclosure in front of a small pond.

The Gir Forest, a well-known national park in India, had the Asiatic Water Buffalos. We drove very slowly and closer to them – they are big!

Then we rode by the Hwange National Park, a famous reserve in western Zimbabwe. This is the home of the white Rhinoceros – we saw quite a few of them. Lion Country Safari is a part of the SSP (Species Survival Plan) for this endangered species. Since 1977 many white rhinos have been born on their preserve. The name for the white rhino comes from the Afrikaans word “vide” which means wide or square-lipped. Their color is not white, but stone-gray.

One of the rhinos was having a snack, so we stopped to watch him.

He interrupted his snacking and started walking towards us.

Then he stopped and watched me. I was a bit anxious as I did not want him to charge the car.

I started the car very slowly and eased toward the giraffe’s area. Looking on the right hand side I quickly snapped a picture of a white-handed gibbon – he was shooing some birds that were encroaching on his domain.

One of the giraffes was feeding and the others were outside with their young ones.

Reaching the Gorongosa Reserve, located in Northern Mozambique, we saw the lions behind a safety fence. Game wardens in pick-up trucks made sure that no visitors open their car windows. One of the lions was next to the fence on a hill. The animals are not confined but their area is quite large. It was hard to get a good shot through the car window. I also used my Sony DSC-HX1 as it has a telephoto lens.

The second time we drove through the Hwange area many zebras were near and on the road. We stopped and were able to look at them quite close. I happily snapped away – 23 pictures, below are just a few.

click on pictures to get a better look

After touring the reserve with our car we left it in the parking area and explored the park further, on foot. We took the Nature Trail which brought us near Lake Shanalee. Many birds were around the lake – Sarus Cranes, Flamingos, etc. as well as large turtles.

The Lori bird feeding area was enclosed by nettings. The birds flew all around us and perched on our shoulders, our heads and bags. My husband had left his camera case on a cement seat and the birds went all over it to investigate.

On our way out we passed the Macaws

Finally it was time to leave – and we had not seen everything.

It had been an enjoyable day even though it can be difficult to see animals in captivity but then – what if the animal would not survive anyway because of the constant human need for more land, urbanization, deforestation and global warming? Wildlife is slowly being lost – more than 5,700 species are on the brink of extinction, including 1/8th of the bird species and ¼ of all mammals – add to this number about half of the 6,000 species of amphibians (frogs, salamanders, etc.) Zoos are one way we can make amends for destruction of lands and seas but mankind needs to halt the spiraling growth of population and its demand on the planet or there won’t be any wild animals left. Animals are an important part of our Earth and since we are the ones who put them in danger we need to do everything we can to protect them.

"En fin de compte, nous protègerons seulement ce que nous aimons.
Nous n'aimerons que ce que nous comprendrons.
Nous ne comprendrons que ce qui nous a été enseigné ."

- Baba Dioum, Poète et Naturaliste Sénégalais né en 1937
(d’un discours fait à New Delhi, Indes in 1968.)

Lion in a Landscape, Rosa Bonheur, American, 1822-1899

"In the end, we will protect only what we love.
We will love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught."
- Baba Dioum, Senegalese Poet and Environmentalist born in 1937
(from a speech made in New Delhi, India in 1968.)


TorAa said...

When we really think about it,
why does homo sapiens have the right to destroy other specimens habitat?

Your photos and story is simly eminent.

I've postet this weeks WW, another Clue, you remember?

Deborah said...

Vagabonde, this is another wonderful post. Your research, photos, commentary and evenhandedness about the issue of keeping animals in zoos is admirable, truly.

I agree with the concept of 'responsible' zoos and would absolutely love to be able to visit this one. I had never heard of it before, although admittedly I have never considered Florida as a vacation destination other than DisneyWorld, and cannot see myself ever going there.

Thank you for all your conscientious work and effort - this was much emjoyed.

Vicki Lane said...

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit! Thank you for taking the time to do this magnificent post.

The wonderful diversity of living creatures . . .

Ginnie Hart said...

I learn so much every time I read your posts, Vagabonde! You really are amazing. I bet you're a teacher...or were in a past life?! :)

I am very aware of the controversy not only about zoos but circuses as well. Those who are against them are totally against them. My personal feeling is that they serve a purpose for animal and observer alike. If they are not being mistreated, I'm guessing they, the animals, are most fortunate and lucky.

The more I see your collages, the more I think I should start using them on my own blog, especially for our trips. I would love to know what collage software you use. It's perfect for your fabulous images. I love clicking on them to enlarge them.

Friko said...

I think you certainly make an argument for keeping animals in zoos, but I hardly think this is a zoo in the old-fashioned sense.
You appear to have had a wonderful day and seen and learned a lot, which you, as always, passed on to your readers in a magnificent post.
Although I rather dislike the idea of zoos, I admit that this is one I would love to be able to experience.

Shammickite said...

I'm not very keen on zoos in general, but this one seems like a wonderful open place where people can observe animals in their natural surroundings. There's a similar exhibit here in S Ontario calle "African Lion Safari" where you can drive your car through various compound containing animals, but I don't think it's as extensive as the one you visited.

bowsprite said...

beautiful photos, very beautiful quote of Baba Dioum, merci!

I know you love animals. I am torn on the issues of zoos, however I do have a stand on 'zoos' for powerful sea animals. Did you follow the story on the orca?

Have a beautiful trip, chére Vagabonde!

claude said...

Quelle jolie visite tu nous fais faire là Vagabonde !
Il y a les pro zoo et ceux qui sont contre.
Il est vrai que tous ces animaux sont en captivité, mais comme tu le dis, les enfants et aussi les parents sont ravis de pouvoir voir des animaux sauvages : le roi lion et dame girafe.
Les réserves sont mieux adaptées à la vie sauvage des animaux en captivité. Il y az aussi ce genre de parc en Fance, à Thoiry, je crois.
Je pense que es allée au zoo de Vincennes. Ici, en Sartrhe on eut voir celui de La Flèche qui est très bien.

Elaine said...

I very much enjoyed going on safari with you. You got some fantastic photos of such a huge variety of animals. I particularly enjoyed the curiosity of the Lori birds when they explored the camera.

As to the question of whether zoos should operate, I think the modern zoos are providing a valuable service. I can remember when I was younger going to zoos where animals were kept in small cages surrounded by concrete and bars. The zoos we visit now have attempted to make the living conditions as similar to the animals natural habitat as they can. And as you said, most of these animals would not survive if they were turned out into the wild.

Zoos have also repopulated areas where the natural population had died out. Here in Alaska the Musk Oxen was hunted into extinction. In 1930 four were captured in Greenland and brought to Alaska. Eventually some of their offspring were released back into the wild in several areas of Alaska and now there are around 4000 animals living in the wild. Because of man's past disregard for the survival of many species, zoos today can be instrumental in bringing back wild populations to their native habitats.

Lifecruiser Travel Blog said...

Excellent post and questions. Everything has it's pros and cons for sure. This is a bit like I've always felt about adoptions too actually.

Who can really tell what's right? It depends on so many different factors. Some zoo's are awful, others quite good. Some people only have the opportunity to see animals in zoo's and might need to feel that connection to fully understand it's true value.

I love all animals, yet I can't make up my mind in this question.

Oh, and I love those old pictures!

Arlee Bird said...

Those are some really nice photos. This looks like a very interesting place to visit.
You have also adressed some interesting issues.

DJan said...

What is hard for me about zoos is the cage. Although this zoo doesn't have them except where really necessary, those that have wild animals in small spaces seem really inhumane to me. This zoo doesn't at all. I was especially taken with the llamas, all the birds, and that HUGE rhino. If it had decided to charge the car, there would be nothing to do about it. I suspect you must sign all kinds of liability waivers to visit this zoo. Just wonderful pictures and information, as usual. I saved this one for last so I could spend time reading and looking...

Angela said...

Since I was in the Luangwa Valley Game Reserve in Zambia, no visit to a zoo came close to that feeling, but you are right, the modern zoos are doing a very good job. Here in Germany you will not find zoos of the old kind, they all provide natural condidtions as far as possible. And how else could you see so many African animals close by, and be impressed and understand why they should be sheltered? I think zoos are very necessary, especially for children. Thanks for this post!

RennyBA's Terella said...

Did not know so thanks for sharing with a great and readable story (as always!) and great pics too!

What a wonderful way to celebrate and in great climate :-)

Happy Weekend to you.

PeterParis said...

A fantastic and so complete post! Yes there are good zoos and bad zoos! Wonderful that there some good ones!

Frances said...

Vagabonde, I agree with you about all that we can learn from our exposure to other animals.

Your words and photos in this posting are terrific.

Thank you for your comment! Don't think that I will ever again have the time to even contemplate dying my own yarns, but that site you mentioned does look like fun.


Baino said...

I think zoos like this are commendable. I don't approve of wild animals being captured for zoos but captive breeding programs are the only hope for many species. We have a wonderfulzoo out on the Western Plains of NSW, another 'open range' zoo and they have a valuable breeding program for a number of vulnerable animals.

I think I saw a few Aussies in there, particularly the Rainbow Lorikeets . . no need to have them in a zoo here, they're in my trees!

Ruth said...

Wonderful thorough post, not a surprise coming from you. The photos are terrific, and I never heard of a camera with a through-window setting.

Don and his fellow 3rd grade teachers take their students to our local zoo for the Big Zoo Lesson every year, and they just went week before last. I have always had a problem with zoos, but I am glad to know zoo animals are born in the zoo. Don has told me good things about our local zoo: they do enrichment activities for the animals, which replicate something in the wild. They protect endangered species. They educate people about these animals. They rehab eagles, having taken in 12 eagles that had been injured by autos, for instance. Eight have been re-released into the wild.

My favorite thing about the Big Zoo Lesson is how the kids have to observe a group of animals for one straight hour. Observation skills really grow in that situation.

Darlene said...

I am so impressed with the time and care you take to put together your wonderful posts. I always enjoy the beautiful photography and running commentary. Your posts are always educational, as well. You should put them in book form and get them published.

There are two zoos of this type in southern California. I have been in both and it's amazing to see a pride of Lions under a tree with Zebras and Antelopes ignoring them and leisurely walking by. They are so well fed that there is no predator and prey. I love that.

dot said...

Wonderful informative post! I've always wanted to visit a drive through type zoo..maybe one day. Your pictures are very nice.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I've never been to this park but know right where it is. We drove through something similar in Texas one time and enjoyed it very much.

Thanks for taking us along.

Louis la Vache said...

hee hee
You included photos of a RINO*, was he named McCain?

Re your question about the Coppola wines - they have a sterling reputation. «Louis» hasn't tasted them because his body has a very low tolerance for alcohol.

*Republican In Name Only

penny said...

Personally I would rather see all animals roam free as the day they were born. A place like Lion Country Safari dose fill our desire to see wild animals up close and hopefully help us to understand and respect them.
Your photos are terrific, glade you had a wonderful time enjoying our sights here in south Florida.

✿France✿ said...

Bonjour et merci de ton passage. Je vais revenir te voir et regarder ces superbes animaux.

young-eclectic-encounters said...

Wonderful thoughtful post. It also brought back memories for me as one of my first dates with my husband was to Lion Country Safari.
I would like to thank you for visiting my post and your comments on my tree photos. If you download from the Internet you can both change the sky colors and add text. picnik is free for the basic software and is about $30 per yr for the upgrade. Tip for text if you hold down the ALT button and type in 0169 the copyright symbol will come up most of the time it does not work with all fonts. I'm having a senior moment right now and can not remember which effect I used for the sky colors but when I remember I'll let you know. There are several ways. Thanks again for your visit Johnina :')

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