Today is Sunday...and I have been spending the weekend with my 4-year-old grandson. Yesterday, we went to the NC Zoo near Asheboro, a quite nice zoological park in which habitats are designed FOR the animals, as much as for the people who come to view them. However- and forgive me for my seeming snobbery- but with my trip to Africa pending, I was acutely aware of just how inadequate any zoo is in conveying the sight and feel of seeing African animals in their natural habitats. Seeing a pair of lions napping in the sun cannot compare with watching a pride eating the night's kill, females and cubs waiting while the males eat their fill. Watching 3 elephants on a grassy knoll seems somehow inadequate after seeing a small herd (20 or so) crossing the grasslands before your eyes.
But for most Americans, visiting a zoo provides the only opportunity to see these magnificent animals. I guess I just wish that more education went with the experience, instead of it being viewed as just another form of entertainment. I heard so much misinformation being given to children yesterday by well-meaning but uninformed parents that it made me feel very sad indeed. Like the mom who told her two young sons that the elephants were rust-colored rather than gray because they were Indian elephants rather than African elephants. (the elephants at the NC Zoo are rust-colored because that is the color of the soil with which they perpetually cool themselves. And they are indeed African elephants.)
Of course, with on-going budgetary struggles, there are fewer and fewer people employed for educational programs at the zoo...though I have to wonder how many people would take advantage of them, if offered, since listening to someone talk ABOUT animals doesn't rank high in entertainment potential, sadly. It just seems sad to me that our children are getting so little sense of the wonder and majesty of the natural world, in all of its nearly-endless variety and jaw-dropping awesomeness.
So I am now additionally grateful to be returning to Kenya and Rwanda in just a few days, to once again be reminded that we, here in the U.S.A., are not the only peoples with a nation and resources of which we can be proud. The glories of the world are so much more than Disney World and Carnival Cruises and the NC Zoo, which is why opening ourselves to others peoples and other experiences is so very important and should somehow be part of the educational experience of every child.