Visiting Glasgow Zoo in the Fifties - Scottish nostalgia
Anne Marie Madden recalls a memorable and thought-provoking visit to Glasgow Zoo in the 1950s.
When I was a child, I sometimes used to be taken to a zoo on the outskirts of Glasgow. In it, was a variety of animals, some exotic, most huddled in cages looking cold and bored. The life enrichment possibilities which would now be considered mandatory were, if my memory serves me right, entirely absent from their enclosures.
The two polar bears stood obsessively swaying on a concrete island, their pool far below, slimy and uninviting. The solitary elephant was tethered by one leg to a ring embedded in the concrete floor of its pen. It too swayed from side to side as far as its chain would allow. Out of its small red rimmed eyes it watched us watching it.
The Bactrian camel and zebras had a field to themselves but seemed, at least when I was there, to spend most of their time standing by the fence as if waiting for someone or something.
On one of my visits to the zoo I was standing eating an apple in front of the cage where the solitary gorilla was kept. He sat watching me intently then stretched an arm out through the bars and looked at me pleadingly (or so it seemed to me). In answer to its mute appeal, I bit off a chunk of apple and threw it to the animal but my aim missed and instead the apple hit one of the bars of the cage and bounced back, landing on the concrete surround, out of the gorilla’s reach.
Quick as a flash, he sized up the situation and shuffling to the back of the cage, he snatched up a sack lying in the corner, then returned to the front of the cage where he began throwing this through the bars while still holding on to one end of it.
When the sack landed on the piece of fruit, he drew it towards him until the apple was within reach. He then claimed his prize. Imagine my surprise when a short time later, I heard someone on the radio pronouncing that animals were very far behind humans in the evolutionary stakes, an example of this being that animals cannot use tools.
(Image copyright Library of Congress)