Capturing the Wild for our Entertainment

Janet Kuypers

    I recently came back from the Galapagos Islands, where you become the nature fanatic, snapping pictures like mad of Red-Footed Bobbies, Blue-Footed Boobies and Nazca Boobies (yes, these are the actual names of birds, and when you get back to town the have of tourist shops with mass-produced t-shirts emblazoned with “I love boobies” on them), or land or marine iguanas, lava lizards, fur seals and sea lions, dolphins, penguins and flamingos (even Sally Lightfoot crabs and Frigate birds and American Oystercatchers and finches). But while we were traveling through the islands we took a special trip near the Highlands on Santa Cruz Island to a farm where giant tortoises were allowed to roam free on a large amount of land — and it was better than seeing and tortoises confined in a pen, even an outdoors one. The Charles Darwin Research Station in Santa Cruz Island had older tortoises displayed there, but they were in pens, in relatively restricted areas. (I know, I know, you think: they won’t want to go far, so that’s no big deal, but because these had areas in the Research Center that were only separated by very low steps in parts, these animals would try to move freely and leave their quarters).
    And these giant tortoises were really amazing to see, probably at 3 or 4 feet wide, making them probably 4 or 5 feel in length (at 2 or 3 feet high). Some of these tortoises were insanely old (100+ years old), and you could see it not only in the way they walked (but trust me, being in that shape with that shell, anyone would lumber slowly) but also in the wrinkles when they stretched their skin to arch their neck and turn their head or reach to drink water for the standing water ponds. And it was really cool, after walking slowly (they would sense the vibrations form our walking), to be able to walk along the grass and find tens of giant turtles eating grass, or drinking water, or just enjoying themselves in the sun.
    And now that I’ve gone on like this about the greatness of seeing this, you’re probably getting pissed off. That’s the point?, you ask. Well, I came back to Chicago and took a walk in the local mall before it opened (it’s not like I’m going to go out for a walk when it’s 34 degrees outside out, with tons of slush and snow on the ground), and I passed Rainforest Cafe. Now, I have issue with that restaurant already (it’s not like they donate to preserving rain forests, in fact, they hurt the rain forest by using concentrate orange juice in this massive chain, which takes a portion of it’s concentrate oranges from cleared Brazilian rain forest land, they like to just give their chain restaurants and jungle-life feel and monopolize on the fact that people in general respect the rain forest by using that name), but the Rainforest Cafe has a shop right across the mall hallway called “Serpent Safari.” Now this place boasts “America’s finest reptile zoo” with guided tours (that are only $5 to $7), but on display in the mall windows are some of the animals. And I would see a “giant turtle” (which, by the way, was about one fourth the size of the ones we saw outside on Santa Cruz Island, in captivity or not). And as our to the Galapagos Islands was approaching and I would walk by this window and see this turtle, sitting in the exact same position of this 3-foot by 4-foot display, thinking that trapping this animal like this is not fair to the animal, while I also wondered what tortoises I would see in the wild.
    Well, got back from that Galapagos trip now (here are some images ), and over a month after I returned I went to the mall to try to talk (you know, because the weather here is so horrendous right now), and I saw this same tortoise sitting in the window in the exact same spot in its little display window at the mall. And you know, I thought of it in passing before I went to the islands, but now th wrongness of keeping this animal trapped like this seems that much more. . . well . . what is the word I’m looking for. . . I want to say “inhumane,” but that seems so wrong because I’m talking about an animal and not a human, but still. I think there’s a difference between keeping a mock habitat in a zoo for animals to attempt to more freely (I mean, hey have trees for places for monkeys and even lions and tigers to Jaguars and Cougars to be near in their habitats, at least it’s something), and keeping a tortoise penned in a 3-foot by 4-foot window box with their floor covered in wood chips (at not grass). I know most people don’t make a trip to the Galapagos Islands, but there has a to be a more humane way to show off these rare animals to people.

    And as I write this, the vegetarian that tries to be so high and mighty, I hear the water fountain noise form the other side of my office. I look over at the water, aerating the 1-foot by 4-foot tank I keep for a Clown Knife (the 14 inch long fish with the undulating bottom fin) and a Plecostimous algae-eating fish.
    I suppose we all try on some levels to be respectful to living things, ut I suppose it’s easy to cross that line in this world.



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