A day at the zoo

1977, Paris, a few weeks between the Army (in France) and Grad school (in the US). I load my faithful 35mm Asahi Pentax with Black & White film. Ilford of course. Destination: the “Zoo de Vincennes”, southeast of Paris. Above: a black-face gibbon ready to fool around. Most gibbon species come from Southeast Asia and are endangered. Some critically.

African buffalo, one of the most dangerous animals in the wild. Lives in large herds. There are about 400,000 left, mostly in East and South Africa. Status: near-threatened. Some hunters pay up to 10,000 bucks to shoot one. (Jesus!)

Fooling around I tell you. The zoo at Vincennes was designed in the 30’s. Lots of concrete structures, but also lots of space and trees. A nice stroll. It houses – and protects – 2,000 to 3,500 animals.

Polar bear, another very dangerous creature. Don’t be fooled by its cute looks. 20 to 30,000 polar bears still live in the Arctic. Vulnerable due to the reduction of the polar ice cap.

African lioness. In the 50’s, an estimated 400,000 lions lived in sub-Saharan Africa. estimates in the early 2,000’s were between 16 and 47,000… Need I say more? Claws, teeth and bones are sold for aledged health benefits…

“You still looking at me?”

Forgot the name of that gazelle. Or is it an antelope? Some break one horn in fights over territory and females…

Jumpin’ Jack flash”… (Jagger/Richards)

Asian elephant. See the unusual long tusks? Their African cousins proved impossible to tame, but the Asian elephants have been domesticated for centuries in Asia providing efficient labour for hard jobs. Bulldozers put them out of work. The wild population is estimated at around 50,000. Status: endangered.

“I think I’ll do another 200 laps.”

“Jump in. The water’s great.”

“Just callin’ my African buddies.”

“Hakuna matata.”

“This here is my best angle.” 🐘

Kwaheri sassa. (See y’all soon)

100 thoughts on “A day at the zoo

  1. Magnificent animals but seeing them has a tragic flip side for me. Most captive animals have mental health issues, except perhaps domesticated species like the elephant. Interesting that the African elephants can not be domesticated.
    Singapore zoo in the 80s had a polar bear exhibit. In Singapore’s heat of all places!! A bit cruel. Poor thing kept floating around in the pool trying to keep cool.
    Did you know we have buffalo here – mostly feral populations in the desert north? An introduced species of course.

    • I know. I understand the flip side. More so since I saw so many animals in the wild. But with poaching and human encroachment… Ultimately zoos, or a revised version will be all that’s left… Polar bear in Singapore? Hmmm. We did go to that zoo in Singapore. It was pretty nicely set up. White tigers in lieu of polar bears…
      I knew you guys had camels, but no buffalos… (Introduced with rabbits?) 😉 Buffaloes are mean…

      • Loads of feral inhabit the desert and compete for resources. Australian soils are poor and we have no naturally occurring hoofed animals. They damage the fragile soils. We have feral cats, foxes, goats, buffalo, boars, camels, horses, rabbits all things introduced to make Australia more like Europe.

    • 75? deux ans avant… C’est un zoo sympa. avec tous les problèmes que peuvent représenter les zoos. Et je comprends les critiques. Mais quand je vois les chiffres dans la nature… je me dis qu’il ne restera plus que les Zoos… Bonne soirée Emma.

    • We don’t, but most of human encroachment is done by poor uneducated peasants… Wild elephants come and raid the tiny corn field you planted to feed your family… What do you do?

  2. Totally agree with Rebecca.
    Do we really need to kill such beautiful animals for sport or to use certain parts to heal ailments…we’re destroying the globe at an alarming rate.
    Although I really don’t like zoos, sadly, they are a way of protecting a species. Your statistics are astounding! Another tragedy is whaling and the need to kill whales each year by a particular country for “scientific research” – really?
    Great B&W shot Brian!

    • Agree with both. Indeed I don’t much like zoos anymore, but, but… And the statistics make one miserable. Just finished digitalizing a movie my mother shot when we went to Murchison Falls in Uganda, in 1968. One day, out little van was literally inside a huge elephant herd. All around us. Two elephants were actually fighting. Head to head to establish pecking order. They were 20 yards away. Now? There would be more tourist vans than elephants…
      (Grazie. B&W is nice. It has a magic of its own, and Ilford was a great brand)

  3. I hate zoo’s. At first, when I was a child, it upset me that we caged up animals for our amusement.
    Now, it upsets me that many are endangered and need to be protected from our amusements, in zoos.

    That’s just me.
    Thank you for the post, Brian!

    • I know. Cages. Limited space… neurosis… I understand. Now the way of the future is probably a large park, where animals can be “saved”, with enough space for them to wander a bit. And non-invasive viewing facilities. There is one in France called Thoiry. There is another one here in Mexico, called Africam… Not perfect.
      Thanks for visiting.

  4. Beautiful pictures, Brieuc. In black and white it gives them extra drama.

    However, like Resa, I am anti-zoo, except the type like we have in the West-Island of Montreal called the Ecomuseum https://zooecomuseum.ca/en/about-us/ – it is a place for the animals of Quebec and the St. Lawrence Seaway who have been hurt and cannot return to the wild. They have lots of space to live and they do help educate people on the fauna of the area.

  5. The Bronx Zoo in NY has done away with many of its cages. You can walk down a path, turn around and there’s a peacock following you or a goat will join you for lunch at your picnic table. It’s not a free-for-all with animals roaming wherever they want; the zoo is very well maintained and managed. People love seeing the animals in a natural habitat and, of course, the “dangerous” animals such as lions, etc cannot come close to visitors nor can dangerous humans get close to them. Still, it’s much better than having every animal on display in a cage. Every creature, human or otherwise, is happier in this new environment. Google the Bronx Zoo; I think you’ll be impressed. Thank you for these beautiful photos. Animals should only be shot with cameras, not guns.

    • I will look it up. Thanks for the tip. I spent most of my childhood in Africa, so I was “exposed” to a lot of animals in the wild. With a camera… I have been in the midst of an elephant herd (in a van), or a few yards away from rhinos. Etc… The feeling of seeing animals of all kind in their natural habitat is unique.

      • I’m glad you took the time to look it up. It’s quite old and a famous landmark here in NY. The Bronx Zoo has done a lot of renovations in recent years where animals can now live in an area more like their natural habitat and people can enjoy an “up close and personal” experience with the animals. There’s a TV show about the zoo and all the work that goes on behind the scenes. It’s quite impressive and the staff is extremely knowledgeable dedicated. Thanks for the wonderful photos!

      • It probably is the way of the future. Kids or young people need to get in touch with nature and animals. i’m not sure my 6-yr old grandson actually knows the relationship between cows and milk 😉
        So like many many things, we need to reinvent that…
        Have a lovely Sunday Nancy

    • Avec plaisir Mélie. (Même si comme tu vois, less zoos peuvent engendrer du rejet. Compréhensible d’ailleurs. C’est l’un des nombreux cas Where there is no good answer…) Bonne soirée Mélie.

  6. Wonderful photos and accompanying descriptions and captions. You bring the photos alive with your words and feelings. And that’s what makes them so special. Kudos to you! 🙂

  7. Wow, what a find with these photos ~ your faithful 35mm Asahi Pentax, there is a great art that has been lost these days with the advent of digital cameras, and I am not complaining. But when you have a limited number of shots available with film, there was little room for trial and error and you had to know/understand aperture and speed as well as focal points in detail to pull off the shots you have shown here at the Vincennes zoo. Really masterful work 🙂 Add to these shots your humor and explanation and this post is brilliant. The other surprising thing is the beauty of the zoo, the natural terrain (for a zoo) and overall environment seem pleasing. Thank you, Brian, for a nice start to my weekend.

    • My pleasure my dear Dalo. You’re absolutely right. Scarcity made us more… “snappy”. 😉
      Humor? One tries… It is the best defense again the crawling madness isn’t it? (Full of sound and fury signifiying nothing and all that. 😉)
      And having said that I envy your people shots… I have some stored away for other sketches… (Just running after time I guess…)
      Have you heard of your Ukrainian friends?
      Are you planning to go home this summer?
      Om mani padme om… 🙏🏻

      • 🙂 Humor makes the world go ’round 🙂
        This is one thing I like very much about Czech, I share a similar sense of humor with the people I am around and it simply makes life better. I’ve heard from my Ukrainian friends, and they have returned to Sumy. I was very surprised by their decisions, but also strengthened by it as well. I met Yevgeniy in Toronto the past week ~ he was there for business and he said while things are difficult, all aspects of society are trying to continue to move forward… unbelievable resilient and strong people.

        I returned back to Seattle just the other day, but also feel like I left a bit of myself in Czech too which is a nice feeling to have. I plan to be in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of months visiting family and also with work. Hard to believe summer is just days away. Wishing you and your family well, and hope you are off to a good start for the summer. Take care ~ and hope that somewhere our paths may cross. Would be great to share a beer or two with you 🙂

      • Looked up Sumy on the map. Rather close to Dombass… or to where the fighting goes on in the East. I insist Ukrainians are a brave people. Europe has a lot to learn from them. I hope all will be safe, and that P*tin will be defeated…
        Two months home is good. Enjoy family and friends.
        Thank you for your good wishes. We are all going to Paris and London in July. Should be nice.
        We shall certainly cross path one day. for a beer or two…
        Take care Dalo

      • Yes, Sumy is about 50km from the Russian border, but the city has not been a target for Russia to take over (granted they were surprised when tanks invaded…). It is peaceful there now, but must be nerve-wracking.
        Great that you will travel back to Paris in July ~ walking those streets you know so well 🙂

      • Yes, it will be nice. Going “home” of sorts.
        I’m glad your friends are not under direct fire… But nerve-racking it must be…
        Peace for 🇺🇦

  8. amazing photos as always! An old friend lived in St Mande and coming from Australia I just could not believe the depth of the history in that area. The first time I stayed there I had to go to the Kodak shop (hard to believe now) to buy film and we walked past the chateau there. blew my mind!

  9. I tend to grind my teeth and seethe when I read figures of how so many animals have been decimated simply for their skin / fur or body parts to “cure” erectile dysfunction.

    We are such an ignorant barbaric species of upright ape at times.

    • I do too. Which is why I put the figures. It’s a drop in the ocean, but a few will be aware of the disaster. I just digitalized an 8mm movie my mother made in ’68, when we traveled to Murchison Falls in Uganda. I vaguely remembered one episode when our little VW van was in the midst of a “small” elephant herd. 50-60 animals? I don’t think you can see that anymore anywhere…
      And yes we are. Very faulty design…

  10. Thank you for sharing the photos and captions 🙃 There’s this old joke about a guy who gets a job at a zoo, and on his first day he’s asked to put on a chimpanzee suit and take the animal’s place. The guy starts getting into the role, and during his antics, he falls into the lion’s cage. The lion starts charging him, and the guy and the chimpanzee outfit starts yelling for help. The lion whispers in his ear: “stop yelling, they’ll fire both of us”…

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