You don’t have to be a sworn animal-lover to feel the plight of four-legged beauties spending their lives in the confines of a cage for the sake of entertaining humans who care to come visiting. All it takes is a little empathy to see the life of neglect and loneliness that animals caged in zoos are subjected to, away from their natural habitat and way of life, without getting a say in the matter.
Zoos have never been a happy place for me. Zoo visits have always been a heartbreaking experience instead of memorable, fun outings that they are made out to be. So, this turning of tired zoo dynamics on its head to give way to a new concept where visitors are in captivity and exotic wilds on the loose came as a heartening bit of news. Here are five zoos around the globe where you can experience is unique role-reversal first hand:
Lehe Ledu Wildlife Zoo, Chongqing City, China
This zoo is China lets humans admire several exotic species without disrupting their way of life by driving them around the open habitat of animals in caged vehicles. Chickens are used are live bait for attracting animals to make an appearance for their visitors, who can draw them closer to their vehicles by offering food from a small well-secured opening. The Lehe Ledu Wildlife Zoo is home to white tigers, Bengal tiger and bears, among other animals. You are required to pre-book a tour, as the zoo outings are sold out days in advance more often than not.
Parque Safari Zoo, Rancagua, Chile
Riding in a modified vehicle, secured with an iron mesh, you get a chance to touch a lion’s claws or even tickle its belly at the Parque Safari zoo located in Rancagua, central Chile. The vehicles take visitors around a five-acre enclosure inhabited by lions. Raw meat hunks are placed atop the cage to draw out the big cats. If you are lucky and the lions are feeling up to it, they might just climb atop the vehicle to grab the meat, giving you a chance to come in contact with them without risking your life but rest assured you’d still be feeling a chill down your spine and hair standing up at ends.
Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch, New Zealand
The Orana Wildlife Park’s Lion Encounter in New Zealand is another zoo that is turning the tables on traditional practices of captivity and winning hearts in the process. Much like its counterpart in Chile, Orana Wildlife Park too carries people around the 7,600-square-metre enclosure in mini-trucks secured by iron mesh for a peek at the lions in their natural habitat. Trained staff members accompany the visitors and use meat baits to attract the wild cats. But coaxing the lions to come any closer to the vehicle than they are comfortable with is not encouraged.
Monarto Zoo, Near Adelaide, South Australia
In a first-of-its-kind project in Australia, the Monrato Zoo allows visitors to quite literally walk into a lion’s den, with a secure cage-like structure separating them from the big cats roaming about freely. Unlike the other zoos, there are no vehicles involved here. Instead a caged tunnel has been built to accommodate anywhere around 30 visitors at a time for a look up close at the lions, as they roam about freely and gorge on their food. You get to appreciate these gloriously gorgeous creatures lurking around or even climbing atop the cage. According to the zoo authorities, the lions too seem ‘very interested’ in humans visiting them.
Zootopia, Givskud Zoo, Denmark
A 300-acre extension of the popular Givskud Zoo in Denmark, Zootopia too thrives on the concept of letting animals be in their natural habitat, thus offering a mashup of safari and zoo experience. The open zoo is divided into different zones, named Asia, Africa, and North America, each housing several species of animals native to these regions. So you have lions, white rhinos, elephants and zebras co-existing in a natural habitat. For now, visitors can drive around the area in a closed car or the zoo’s visitor bus. By 2019, the zoo plans to make these human visits more seamless to the animals by concealing their presence through hidden viewing galleries, airborne pods, and natural barriers such as water bodies, log piles and bamboo stalks.
Now, that’s the kind of zoo outing that makes for a happy, memorable experience. I’m definitely adding these to my bucket list. Are you?