Bologna’s biggest public park is named after Queen Margherita (who also had a pizza named after her). Whatever the equivalent was of the Parks and Recreation Department, sometimes in the ’60’s they thought it would be a good idea to place a pair of sad-looking lions in a caged enclosure. On Sundays, bored parents would take their children to the corner of the park that housed swings, mechanical horses, a few goats and the sad-looking lions. How those poor beasts survived the brutal winters, now, looking back, remains a mystery but, then again, those cats never saw a savannah and were probably the cast offs of some circus or zoo. To this day, the cages are still there, empty, mercifully devoid of other predators.
I couldn’t help thinking of those lions yesterday, while wandering around the LA Zoo, a visit long avoided during the past 16 years. Zoos, like circuses, carry a certain sadness. Their upside might be that many of the animals will never be eaten by predators in the wilderness and are protected by poachers but it’s hard not to imagine them in vast, open spaces, running around (or running away trying to avoid becoming somebody else’s lunch) rather than seeing them confined in small enclosures. Especially sad like the ones at the LA Zoo, a far cry from its fancier cousin down south in San Diego.
Still, during the course of my 2 hours inside the zoo, I learnt a few factoids:
- There are very many animals species I have never heard of – Cassowary, Pig Deer anyone?
- Alpaca sweaters and blankets come from a furry animal closely resembling a wild boar
- Lions sleep up to 20 hours a day. Which means they wake up, have sex, kill lunch and go back to napping.
- Hippos lie underwater all day, lifting their head up for air now and then. At night they get up, eat roughly 90 pounds of grass and then get back to sleep when the sun comes up.
- The 40-year-old rhinoceros was nowhere to be seen – apparently she is so old she is tired of visitors and stays in her quarters.
- There is no doubt we descend from chimps. None whatsoever.
On my way out, my friend and I got lost inside Griffith Park. Much, much bigger than Bologna’s Giardini Margherita, they do have one thing in common – sad-looking lions.