Here is my 2 pence worth on my thoughts about the ZSL and its two main sites. Before I get to the main points behind this post, I would like to make it clear that these are just my honest opinions and thoughts on a topic that is close to my heart. This does not mean that I am unaware of other personal points of views, it just means that what I have written here is what I think about it and I welcome and await with interest other points of view and comments on this post. The main theme of this post is my personal views on the ZSL and its two public sites, London and Whipsnade Zoos. There have been quite a few discussions that I have got involved with on this site and sometimes wonder on what basis people’s views are coming from. Of course the same could be said of me as I do not hide my admiration of both sites and the work that they do. I guess the question I am asking is what is a Zoo to you? Is it a way to explore and learn about the animal kingdom? Is it a way for you to see new animals and tick them off a list or is it a place where you can run away with your passion of being really interested in animals? I will come back to this question later but keep it in mind as you read the rest of this. The first thing I would like to address is the discussion about the supposedly lack of use of space at Whipsnade. If you are reading this without having been to Whipsnade then the Zoo is a 600 acre site on top of the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire. An old farm, the Zoo sits in beautiful countryside surroundings and would be a wonderful place to be even if the Zoo did not exist. Now, being 600 acres there is of course plenty of room to exhibit and showcase some of the most fascinating creatures from around the world. There are also woodland, lawns and hillsides that remain untouched or at least exist at the moment with no enclosures. The main cause for concern from members on the site is that Whipsnade is not fulfilling its potential. Be it on purpose or a lack of imagination, this seems to really get to people. Now I for one would understand if the Zoo had this awesome site but was showing the animals in unacceptable dank cages or concrete pits, however this is so far from the truth. I have been going to the Zoo for as long as I can remember (my very first memory I believe is from the Zoo!) and the quality of enclosures at Whipsnade has never been higher. Not that it was bad in the first place mind you, but the Zoo has advanced into the 21st century and now looks after its animals in ways never possible before. Think of it like this, the original i-Pod was a fantastic piece of kit but next to the latest i-Phone it’s not as good as the more modern model. For me the first concern of any Zoo should be the animals on site and thankfully that is what the ZSL is good at. I have seen members comment “it’s letting other Zoos down” or “other Zoos would love the space Whipsnade has” (I have paraphrased comments to make it easier for me to type). In my personal opinion I disagree with both statements. For one thing the ZSL obviously has a long term plan for both sites, as has been shown by the plans for a new Elephant house, Entrance complex and Butterfly house at Whipsnade and the long awaited (and needed) new complex for Lions in London. Coming up with the grand ideas is the easy part, obviously they need the finance to put these plans into reality. Now although the ZSL is a massive organisation, it is not made of money. It takes time and effort to get the correct plans and finance in place before any work can get started. Also I would like to add that although I’m sure the money is spread over both sites and its overseas work, the ZSL will surely spend more money on needed developments such as the new Lion enclosure. Secondly before I get onto London Zoo, I would just like to talk about the variety of species that is on show for visitors. I often see comments on the site along the lines of “I wish they had more…” or “it would make more sense to show…” and this does frustrate me. Without sounding harsh, we can debate/discuss/lament for ages about what should/what shouldn’t be on show, but we cannot influence the decision of any Zoo on what it does or will show (neither do we have the full set of information/details). As I have alluded to before, I trust that ZSL know what they are doing, and to doubt them seems pointless. It was once suggested to me that trusting that ZSL has 100% more know-how than we do is like trusting that the Government have 100% faultless knowledge. I’m not going to get into politics, but all I can do is trust that they at least know more about the economy then I do for example. The same goes with the ZSL, the management know all about its finances, facilities etc. And unless you work for the ZSL (I assume there are zoo keepers etc. on the forum) we need to trust that they know what they’re doing. To even question it, to me seems ridiculous. Now I would like to get onto London Zoo. Firstly there is no point in denying that London Zoo is not the perfect place. It is handicapped by listed buildings, a road and canal that pass between parts of the site and the fact it is situated in a royal park that has been around since 1811. I won’t even pretend it’s the ‘best’ zoo in the UK (although what makes the best zoo? That’s a discussion for another day), it’s not even in my top three, it is however a zoo that I respect, really enjoy and have many happy memories from. It was the first zoo to open my eyes to species like Gorillas, Asian Lions etc. and I’m really grateful that it still plays a major role in the conservation of endangered species. Since my first visit back in 1996 the zoo has improved greatly. We can all (I hope so at least) agree that the current Penguin, Tiger, Gorilla enclosures are a massive improvement on enclosures of old. Nowadays there are no Elephants or Rhinos in enclosures unsuitable in the 21st century, the Cotton Terraces look great and old run down parts of the zoo now look much better thanks to a lick of paint. There are two points I would like to address. Firstly, species variety and secondly the future Lion plans. I once saw a comment on the forum that said “how can London Zoo call itself one of the best zoos when there is a lack of Antelope?” I forget the correct Latin name they used. Personally I struggle with the idea that ‘less’ species affect how good a zoo is or is not. In my opinion, a zoo with less species in great enclosures is always better in my book then a zoo that houses everything under the sun but in small cages. A zoo has to balance between species that need help in the wild and species that will bring in visitors through the gate. Zoos are not only centres of conservation work, but visitor attractions as well, and the man or woman on the street are much more interested in seeing species like Penguins, Tigers, Lions and Giraffes than Babirusa, Takins or other strange and exotic animals. I agree that a zoo should not just cater for what will bring visitors in, but there is a balance needed and it is not always easy to find balance in any walk of life. A good zoo in my book is not dependant on its variety of species, it will be based on how good the quality of life is for the animals on site. If you have got this far in my post, then I do thank you and assure you I only have a couple more points I want to discuss in detail. Ever since the new ‘Land of the Lions’ development was announced there has been a huge amount of debate on the forum about the merits of such a large development. Much like the Tigers before them, the Lions at London Zoo are in huge need of a new enclosure. Now the Lion terraces may be historic, famous and interesting architecturally but I personally feel it looks dark, cramped and not a pleasing or interesting environment for either visitor or, more importantly, animals. The new plans will not only provide the Lions with a new enclosure but will open up and refresh an out-dated part of the zoo. One of the biggest bug-bears was the fact that with London Zoo creating a much more spacious Lion enclosure, species such as Servals, Spider Monkeys and Macaques that currently call the Lion terraces their home will leave the site with less species than before. I go back to my earlier point about what makes a good zoo, in that I personally don’t believe it’s a big problem. I enjoy going to see animals in enclosures and exhibits that suit them, and if the Lions will get a better home at the expense of others, then that’s fine by me. I admit that Spider Monkeys and Macaques are endangered and the Zoo has had good breeding success with them, but once again it’s all about finding a balance, and the Lions seriously need a much better exhibit. Whilst the work goes on at the London site, I believe the Lions and Monkeys will be kept off-show at Whipsnade until the work is complete. Now that has also got at some people, but I’m sure it will not do the animals any harm by being allowed some ‘holiday’ time away from the gaze of the public. Some suggestions were made on the forum about possibly building enclosures at Whipsnade so they can be on show whilst away from London and then use them for other species. Again this costs money, and as cheap as it may be to build temporary enclosures, they have to think of the future cost of exhibit upkeep, animal welfare and any possible new keepers that would be needed. Once again a sensible balance is needed and I firmly believe this is the best option for the ZSL. Finally on the ‘Land of the Lions’ enclosure, the price has also created a large amount of discussion. On the London Zoo website, they quote that the state of the art enclosure will cost £5.2 million pounds. I admit that is a large amount of money; however new developments don’t come cheaply and if this is the amount that a fantastic new Lion enclosure will cost, then that is what is needed. Sure the Zoo could have decided to knock down the Lion terraces and do a simple fence around a large space job, but they wanted to do something interesting and unique. The theming of an Indian village and Gir forest sounds genuinely interesting, and when it’s suggested that themed exhibits out date quickly, that is not the case. I’m sure Legoland is still as good as it was when I was a child, Disney Land is still popular and the massive ‘islands’ development at Chester Zoo features theming as well. If it’s done well (which I’m 100% confident it will) then it will look great. How a brand new home which is seriously needed is a negative thing is beyond me! I could carry on, but already I have written way more then I planned to originally. But I want to go back to my earlier question, what is a zoo to you? Or more importantly what makes a good zoo? I guess this is something that we will all have slightly different views on. Obviously what makes a good album/film/TV programme for me will differ for you and the next and so on, but I’m sure we can all agree on one thing. A zoo MUST be a place that looks after its animals in the best possible way and MUST also be a centre of conservation and preservation. The ZSL has a long and successful history with these things and the future with the Lions at London and future plans for Whipsnade will only help further. As much as I find the area interesting as someone obsessed with zoo history, as far as I’m concerned, the Lion terraces at London Zoo are the last bit of the zoo needing a lot of work done to it. While I firmly agree that without debate and discussion this site could hardly call itself a forum, I do think it can exist without constant negative comments. Fine, be negative, but also be constructive. I don’t think there will ever be a zoo that showcases every species one wants to see; however that is not the point. We are very lucky to live in an age where animal care and welfare is as good as it’s ever been. No longer are animals kept in tiny iron cages or bleak concrete pits but instead live in enclosures and exhibits that not only display the animals well but allow them to live in conditions similar to the wild or at least give them a great quality of life. We have some excellent zoos in this country which do include Whipsnade and London and it’s the animals that benefit. I hope that this has not been too time consuming to read and that it makes sense. I just wanted to get my points of view across as it’s not always easy to on the forum. I don’t feel the criticism of the ZSL is deserved. However that is just my view and I know others have different ones. If you have any comments on this post, then please post them and maybe we can have an interesting discussion. Thanks for reading this.