I sat down on the rock ledge as the keeper handed me a raisin. Feeling it’s wrinkly texture in my palm, I grasped it tightly and braced myself for the onslaught. Before I could get settled, I had furry paws reaching for my hand, trying to get to the sweet, dried fruit inside. Ring Tailed Lemurs were all around me, inspecting every last detail of the hairless primate holding onto one of their favorite treats. I quickly opened my palm, exposing the raisin to the lemurs and it was snatched up.
I was somewhere I’d never been before – on the inside of an animal enclosure at a zoo. And while most zoos would never let visitors into the enclosures, Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Wichita isn’t like most zoos. Tanganyika bills itself as having one of the most interactive animal programs in the United States. In addition to Lemurs, guests can feed or interact with giraffes, red kangaroos, lorikeets, tortoises, and an Indian rhinoceros.
There is no doubt that this is entertaining for the visitors (who wouldn’t want an adorable little lemur crawling all over them?). But at what cost? My visit to Tanganyika was filled with conflicting emotions as I tried to balance my own entertainment value vs. the impact it has on the animals who live there day in and day out.
The Zoo Question
I understand that zoos are controversial, but I’ve never been opposed to them – I owe my interest and curiosity in animals to frequent zoo visits as a child, and I hope that’s made me a better steward in respecting where these animals live in the wild.
The zoo facilities at Tanganyika seemed to be world class (not like the small, cramped enclosures of the old Los Angeles Zoo). All the animals looked healthy and happy; they had plenty of space and opportunities for interaction with one another. None of the animals seemed particularly distressed.
To further protect the animals, Tanganyika Wildlife Park has a ‘no petting’ rule, which certainly saves the animals from a certain level of accostment from sticky-handed children. Any interaction the animals have with humans is on their own accord. Of course, you can almost guarantee interaction by holding onto one of their favorite foods.
But despite these measures, is visiting Tanganyika Wildlife Park responsible? Hardline anti-zoo critics would say otherwise. The animals are subjected to visitors walking throughout their enclosures every single day. There is a reason other zoos do not allow this kind of interaction – these animals are not domesticated pets to be used for our own joy and fulfillment; they are wild animals.
Is there a right answer here, a hardline ‘do’ or ‘do not support’ for Tanganyika Wildlife Park? For me, it’s a struggle. I know there are plenty of people out there who would despise me for even going into the park, let alone feeding one of the lemurs inside. Others would see it as an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m somewhere in between.
I enjoyed my visit at the zoo. I saw animals I’d never seen before (they have a honey badger!), had some truly unique experiences, and used the time to bond with a coworker.
But I struggled with guilt afterwards. Did I support an institution that sacrifices animal welfare for cheap tourist thrills? I don’t know. What is the right answer in this situation?
I don’t know.
What do you think? Would you have visited Tanganyika Wildlife Park if you were in Wichita?