As I wandered in to Barcelona zoo on a whim, trying to take my mind off the day, a childhood memory told me this could work and take me away, what I saw was like witnessing no hope, victims of humans hanging around to die.

I decided to take photos and carry it on when I arrived in Madrid and went to their zoo, and play a game Barcelona v Madrid, which is the saddest zoo? Or Catalan v Spain a left v right of the the animal keepers world. When I found myself in Berlin I carried it on with sound recordings of animals and people, Berlin being the most visited zoo in Europe. Then back home in London I visited the zoo and did the same, London being the oldest and most expensive zoo in Europe, also somewhere I visited a lot as a child and had strong memories of.

Barcelona won the competition of saddest zoo by far. Its something about it being placed in the corner of a beautiful park close to the olympic port, then seeing their very small cages, a zoo ravaged by tourism a bit like the city.

In Germany they refer to animals in zoo’s as a ‘life termer’, referring to the fact that they never get out.

As I walked in to Barcelona zoo I saw some seals in their tanks looking angelic and beautiful, one stopped at the window of the tank it was in, and looked out then turned its head and shut its eyes and kept on doing this until I was trance like in my state of misery of its captured life, it must be like sharing a cell with someone you don’t like and escape is looking out of the cell window or door.

There is a sad beauty about captured animals a bit like a suburban street, their nature will never be free. I then saw the humans walking around , I wanted to forget about the visitors driving around in golf carts and doing selfies in front of traumatized beasts and see what we do to the animals.

We can see ourselves when we look at a caged animal, we can relate it to all the people in our society who are trapped by our circumstances. What is the difference between seeing a prisoner and an animal, how come we seem to get less sad looking at a human lifer than a caged animal , the animals are innocent of crimes against humanity, but so are a section of the prison population.

Its like were not comfortable until we see animals and any other threats caged up, there is a perversity about seeing this, its when we can think and relax. It doesn’t work out for everyone, and there is our nemesis. We kid ourselves we have tamed nature, we have just killed and bullied it.

Its the bigger animals that are really effected the fast roaming all seeing animals waiting for prey all day, the bears, lions, tigers, gorillas, monkeys, the eagles with their wings clipped or they might as well have as they never get to fly out of their cage, their frustration is apparent.

We still kill for fun and animals fear humans. When I hear of animals escaping I think animal magic until they are recaptured or shot dead.

Bokito the male gorilla of berlin zoo later transferred to Rotterdam after escaping there, was so threatened by a human who went to the zoo everyday smiling at Bokito and touching the glass (a sign of aggression to the gorilla) that he jumped the enclosure and mauled the woman leaving her with more than a hundred bite wounds.

We used to feed them it was fun holding out a bun or some sweets and having that interaction of an animal grabbing the food out of your hand, until we realised they would die of the same illnesses as humans. They used to give the animals alcohol so they would put on a show and entertain the visitors , they worked for their keep , it was less sentimental , we treated them like animals, and now there is no interaction its all gone wrong where is the fun, we just stare at the sad animals, after the years of abuse and forced actions we head to the worst of all, boredom, everyone is wondering what is going on, except the dolphins.

Conservation – destroy, recreate, the instigators become saviours.

Our quest to see things conventionally makes misery, now all the zoos are conservation its their reason for been, I don’t remember any problems with nature until we started wiping it out , infecting and killing them, destroying their habitat, what we’re really saying is help us to stop ourselves. We are the evil and mean conquerers of nature and we will destroy our habitat and we will self destruct, and we all get to see this process.

We gain a lot through conservation and science, we can understand nature and help ourselves to beat disease, experiment with drugs and medicine, live longer, be more resilient as a race, aren’t we great at helping ourselves. But it is funny going to the zoo still invokes child hood memories for me, the excitement of seeing the animals, the exotic nature of the beasts, walking around freely and everything seeming alright, but its not.

As the dead looking jaguar lying in a solitary rusty cage at Barcelona zoo, whispered to me ….kill me now…..not later.

Ben Graville

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2 Responses to LIFERS

    1. Good stuff
      Look forward to reading more of your work Ben

      Comment by Joel on 26 December, 2013 at 4:20 pm
    2. Another arresting set of pictures Ben and commentary which really hit the message in deeper.
      It did not surprise me that Spain would win. I have personally seen more animal cruelty there than any other country I have been to which now numbers 32.

      They made me pretty sad seeing these broken and dejected animals doing ‘life’. They are all innocent unlike humans in similar situations. I saw similar scenes when in zoos in Eastern Europe, Hungary and the Ukraine but even more depressing. It’s completely horrid and shamefully inexcusable the way animals are still treated in this civilised and so called compassionate and developed world we live in.

      Comment by Chris Montgomery on 29 December, 2013 at 3:01 am

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