I’ve been going to the Oregon Zoo since I was a toddler, when it was called the Washington Park Zoo and the entrance was across from the tigers. Until a few years ago I was always on the side of our zoo, as many people I know have worked there and it’s publicly owned. I believed in its power as an educational tool. I could see when Fern was little how we’d learn about an animal and then literally go see that animal right away. When she was a baby I would just walk the zoo and narrate everything I saw. I liked the prospect of taking my own kid to the zoo I went to as a kid.
But of course, times change. We hadn’t been back since Max was a baby because I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Fern always asked if we could go and I’d say something like, “Well, I’m not sure they treat the animals very well,” or “I’d rather see animals free.” But last week she asked out of the blue to go, and knowing that Max would love to see real animals like polar bears, chimpanzees, lions, etc. I decided to give it a chance.
After that visit, I probably won’t go back to the Oregon Zoo. The kids just weren’t that into seeing the animals, honestly. If the zoo was a botanical garden with an aviary and bronze sculptures to climb they’d be just as happy. They spent most of their time dancing and singing on rocks and interacting with statues. There are these giant lion sculptures in front of the actual lions and I couldn’t get them to even turn around and look! They didn’t care about the real animals behind them— in their minds the sculptures were real lions— and by the time they did, the real lions were out of sight. They like putting the zoo key in the box and they like riding the train, and we maybe saw 5 or 6 animals total.
Fern took a few pictures of animals, including Max.
Here’s a behind the scenes shot of them—
We did love seeing the harbor seals underwater.
I just think the ship has sailed on zoos. If they were ever truly educationally relevant it was before the Internet. Because now I can just pull up an episode of Planet Earth or Blue Planet and see the most incredible conservation story at any time.
Also, sadly the zoo has some unbelievable animal abuse in its history and it’s important to mention it. Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants is doing really incredible work and I’m going to support them, not the zoo, from now on.