Some years ago Edinburgh Zoo used to have a Polar Bear in their collection. The agency at which I was a founding partner had won the account, which was considered at the time to be one of the crown jewels of Scottish advertising. One evening, after park closing, we were given a ‘behind the scenes’ guided tour. At the end we were allowed, with some trepidation on our part, to approach the bars of the bear’s enclosure. The arctic leviathan padded up and gently sat down, casually leaning against the bars. Then, to our utter astonishment, the keeper produced a Marks and Spencer’s trifle which he fed to the bear with a teaspoon, which was delicately licked with unexpected good manners. It was both incredibly amazing and incredibly sad.
There are many arguments for and against zoos. That they are an invaluable educational and conservation resource is undeniable. As is the fact that they confine animals, sometimes to their detriment, in unnaturally restricted environments. Wherever you stand on the issue, for me that night, it was a privilege to experience such a mighty and wonderful creature.