Visiting Glasgow Zoo in the Fifties - Scottish nostalgia

18 July 2016
Anne Marie Madden recalls a memorable and thought-provoking visit to Glasgow Zoo in the 1950s.

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)