August this year, I spent a couple of days in London. I hate traveling. So the period spent away from home was not much fun. Then there was the added burden of finding adequate entertainment, in a surrounding that ceaselessly poses more questions than answers for me, for the kids. Thankfully, a family friend with sufficient street smarts came to the rescue. The most interesting of the sights she suggested turned out to be the trip to the London Zoo. Not just because the kids found it educating, spectacular, and tiring in just about equal measure. That was important, no doubt.
However, traipsing round the zoo did pose another useful set of questions. For most of the time spent there, I could not but wonder, as we wandered round the installations, why children born (and brought up) in Nigeria should see their first tortoise, or monitor lizard in the UK. There were other exotic animals, a couple of which I had not seen before. And in truth, none of these roam wild anywhere in Africa. But a sizeable number, were, like me, of African descent. It was a pleasure making their acquaintance.
I did worry to no end about the obsessive, compulsive behaviour manifested by the caged animals (the endless, and almost meaningless pacing about), even in the commodious environment of the London Zoo. But what other options are there? My kids could not help asking why we did not have a zoo like this back home. And I recalled wistfully how sad it was years back to learn of the death of the mountain gorilla (“Haruna”, I think he was called) at the University of Ibadan Zoo. So we once had a zoo, somewhere in the country. We once were able, apparently, to act in a responsible custodial relationship to lesser animals.
I appreciated the custodial nature of the London Zoo: keeping in as fine fettle as is possible, an essential part of our collective inheritance — this “little blue planet”. Akin in many ways to what the iTunes Store and other such online music retailers have done for much of our indigenous music legacy. I. K. Dairo, Chris Ajilo and his Cubanos, Dele Ojo, the Peacocks Guitar Band (“Eddie Quansa”), Eric Onugha and his Eastern Aces, Dr. Victor Olaiya — all of these and more I have rediscovered, thanks to Apple. At a time when the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) cannot account for most of its archives of Festac ’77, The Village Headmaster, Iche-Oku, The Masquerade (whose signature tune, “Eddie Quansa” was), Samanja, Cockcrow At Dawn, etc!
On this measure, the irony of the London Zoo and its rich menagerie of African animals, at a time when the African continent’s flora and fauna is rapidly depleting presents itself as a management problem. Unable (and/or unwilling) any longer to care for our own kind, it is doubtful how well we can continue to care for other species.
Until, a development on Friday last week adverted my attention to another possibility. A friend who not long ago relocated to North America returned home — apparently for the Christmas break. And amongst other photographic mementoes of his visit “home” was that of a dead pangolin (an endangered species, if one is to believe the folks at the London Zoo) waiting to be prepared for his taste buds.
Obviously, a further reason why we do not have zoos, besides our general inability to manage anything, is that the animals, which ought to be contained therein, have all been consumed as “bush meat”. So despite the frustration of the beasts in London from being confined in such narrow and obviously artificial surroundings, they are the lucky ones. Truth be told, if most of their Homo sapiens denizens of the continent had a say in the matter, they would swap their “freedom” back home for the safety of a coop anywhere in the UK.
I worry, though, that having successfully fled the morass here, my friend could return to feast on our carcasses. Similarly, there is much going for the fact that the next time my kids saw a pangolin outside London was a dead one on my friend’s Facebook timeline, waiting to be cooked, and eaten!