It’s been a few years since I’ve been to the San Francisco Zoo. My observations from my previous visit still stand, but this time in addition to thinking about the animals on display, I found myself thinking about the zoo itself and how it’s kind of a throwback to a lost era.
I have mixed feelings about the San Francisco Zoo in particular. A lot of zoos I’ve been to are completely redone with all fancy new enclosures. The San Francisco Zoo on the otherhand, while there are plenty of new enclosures, has still kept a lot of its WPA-era infrastructure. This is simultaneously depressing since they’re really not the best places for animals as well as exciting since if you squint, you can see glimpses of the past and imagine what things used to be like when all these animals were exotic reminders of how big the world was.
I found myself looking a lot at the old infrastructure this time. Both because as my kids get older, I find myself trying to remember how the zoo was when I used to visit it at their age, and because I enjoy the idea of the zoo containing reminders of how our past society was. And how much we’ve learned about animals since then.
A lot of these photos are close to being ruin porn. At the same time, they’re also me chasing my own memories and ghosts—including the fact that we bought a Zoo Key this time.
Of course, I was also trying to take photos of the animals. One of my childhood memories of the zoo was how the animals were always hiding.* That’s thankfully no longer the case today. The animals were all out, and quite often lively and healthy looking. So that was nice to see. And nice to photograph.
*In hindsight, it was probably because their enclosures were so depressing.
And the kids had a good time chasing down the Zoo Key boxes and seeing all the animals. Except when things got a bit smelly.
We took a trip to the San Francisco Zoo this weekend. Zoos are always a nice family-friendly day out and they reward anyone who wants to carry camera gear around. Zoo photography is very similar to bird photography, documentary shots are somewhat easy to come by, interesting shots are much harder. Since this wasn’t primarily a photography trip, getting the shot of the Flamingo above counts as a great haul.
It had been a long time (over a dozen years) since I’ve been to any zoo and I can’t help approaching them now with the same kind of approach that I use with museums. I’ve come to realize that zoos are really weird.
Unlike most other cultural/educational enterprises, zoos are almost inherently non-local. There’s always an African section, a tropical South American section, and an Australian section. And you have the big predators (cats and bears) and the monkeys in their own groups. Visiting a zoo is about seeing how the same animals are presented by each zoo.
There’s very little, if any, local wildlife. Which sucks for kids since it would be nice to be able to see animals up close which they may only see (alive or dead) from the car. Or they have to go to one of the small, local wildlife museums which doesn’t have the proper space to show things like deer or mountain lions in the same way that a good zoo could.
I can’t help comparing zoos to aquariums in this department. I love visiting aquariums wherever I go because they’re always focused on the local waterlife. Zoos? They’re starting to feel like a quaint throwback to an older, simpler, time.