If you think about it, the Earth is really just one big zoo. That’s probably what it would become, anyway, if we were ever visited by aliens. Well, if we were very lucky that is, and the aliens didn’t turn out to be hungry. Or conservatives.
Our little blue planet is home to an astonishing diversity of animals. Creatures stranger and more magnificent than the greatest fiction writer could ever conjure up occupy nearly every niche, from the black depths of the Marianas Trench to the airless heights of Mount Everest. Countless species thrive in scorching hot deserts, atop sub-zero ice packs, alongside belching sulfur vents on the ocean floor, in misty forest treetops and deep in sunless caves. Unfortunately, many life forms are rapidly disappearing—forever—due in no small part to the activities of the undisputed winner of The Biggest Asshole Species of All Time Award™, a heretofore obscure ape known as homo sapiens. Of course nearly 100% of all species ever to make an appearance on Earth had already gone extinct long before we ever showed up. But between global warming, pollution, resource extraction, overpopulation and habitat destruction, humanity itself is becoming an extinction event to rival the K-Pg boundary.
To ponder that I share a common ancestor with every living thing on this planet is as exhilarating and humbling an experience as I have ever had, and nothing triggers that exquisite bliss quite like being close enough to touch a cousin creature. It’s tempting to think traipsing, climbing and diving all over the world to visit them in their natural habitats would be the ultimate divine pilgrimage, but in truth the last thing any species, endangered or not, needs is more asshole tourists anywhere near it. Which brings us to zoos.
Zoos trouble me. The best of them do extraordinary work: breeding programs for endangered species, research that directly benefits the health and viability of threatened species in the wild and keeping the public informed about critical conservation efforts. But that sense of awe and wonder I feel with my face pressed up against a sheet of glass helpfully separating me from sleeping lions is always accompanied by sadness. Because no matter how well-treated these magnificent creatures may be, and no matter how authentic and expansive their accommodations, vast numbers of them are imprisoned more for our entertainment than for the benefit of their own species. Frankly, it smacks of Christian dominionism, and I detest everything about Christian dominionism. (Especially Christian dominionists). And don’t even get me started on small zoos run on shoestring budgets. It’s hard to argue that any creatures except the zookeepers and the flies benefit from those operations. Certainly not me, the asshole tourist leaving in tears.
But a virtual zoo? I could never say no to that.
The Palace Zoo is a work-in-progress, probably perpetually so. So far, the Arthropod wing houses only a mantis collection (which is nonetheless worth a visit), and the Reptile wing only two tiny specimens. But there are enough species to justify opening it up for our Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ to take a peek inside.
Life on earth is magnificent. Astonishing. Stunning. Breathtaking. And very, very weird. Enjoy it while it lasts.